Fearing what the Taliban have done and will do to women, the former leader of the Afghan women’s soccer team has urged players to erase social media, remove public profiles, and burn their national team uniforms.

Khalida Popal, who now lives in Copenhagen, said she had always encouraged young women to “to stand strong, to be bold, to be visible,” but she now has other advice for them.

“Today I’m calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety. Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform,” said Popal, adding, “that is painful.”

Soccer, according to Popal, has empowered women to take a bold stand for their freedoms and challenge those who would silence them.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Aug. 18, the Afghan women’s football league co-founder said that insurgents had previously killed, raped, and stoned women and those female players were afraid of what the coming days might contain.

“They are so afraid. They are worried, they are scared, not only the players, but also the activists … they have nobody to go to, to seek protection, to ask for help if they are in danger,” she said. “They are afraid that any time the door will be knocked.”

FIFA expressed its “concern and sympathy with all those affected by the evolving situation.”

“We are in contact with the Afghanistan Football Federation, and other stakeholders, and will continue to monitor the local situation and to offer our support in the weeks and months to come,” said a spokesperson for FIFA.

The Taliban was known for beating or stoning rule breakers and enforcing strict policies on how women appear in public. They are also subjected to rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage.

A woman in Takhar was shot dead on Tuesday, Aug. 17, by Taliban fighters solely for appearing in public without her headscarf. It happened just hours after a Taliban spokesperson was adamant that the insurgent group will respect women’s rights.

Other Taliban officials have stated that they will not seek vengeance on individuals who collaborated with the Afghan government or other governments. Yet, there have been allegations of reprisals already occurring.

Insurgents also promised not to interfere with the U.S.–led evacuation attempts of Westerners and their Afghan allies on Tuesday. But as a collection of social media updates reported, their fighters were marching outside airports using guns, fire, whips, sticks, and sharp objects against Afghans to intimidate them from entering the facilities.

“At the end, I was thinking that there was like 10,000 or more than 10,000 people, and they’re running into the airport … The Taliban [were] beating people and the people were jumping from the fence, the concertina wire, and also the wall”, said an Afghan former State Department contractor.

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.