In many Afghanistan communities, it is forbidden for women to use bicycles. Instead, the use of skateboards have become, for many young girls, a sense of liberation. Back in 2013, British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson visited the small town of Kabal in Afghanistan. She was amazed by the number of young women who had challenged her preconceptions.
She wrote, “It’s hard not to think of Afghan girls skateboarding as a remarkable and quirky clash of cultures. But when you see these girls in their beautiful, bright, flowing clothes tearing around the skate park, often yelping and shrieking with laughter, your preconceptions drop away. You realize that however unusual it may seem, they’re doing what comes naturally to them. As with girls anywhere in the world, once you give them the chance to do something they love, each one begins to discover her own personality, her sense of style and how to express it.”
In 2007, a non profit charity in Afghanistan named Skateistan launched as a grassroots project. Since then, it has taught over 1,600 young children to skateboard each week. The charity has been so beneficial that it has also spread to South Africa and Cambodia in recent years. Skateistan have expressed their admiration for the lack of stigma attached to women skateboarding in Afghanistan. In the skate park, girls and boys from different backgrounds and of different ages are able to form friendships.
In a country that has a taboo against girls riding bicycles, it is amazing that over half of the Skateistan members are all girls. You may not have known that Afghanistan also has the highest percentage of female skateboarders in the world! Jessica Fulford- Dobson expressed that “One amazing thing about skateboarding is that it demonstrates – perhaps more than many other sports – just how tough and resilient these girls – or any girls – can be. They hurl themselves forward with unstoppable courage, and if they take a tumble they bounce right up again, running back to the queue and cheering on their friends. It’s a brilliant way to illustrate the strength, enthusiasm and positivity of young women in Afghanistan.”
As well as offering support and opportunities in skateboarding, Skateisan also provides educational benefits for those involved.In Afghanistan, students come to Skate School five days a week for classes covering the national curriculum. Upon completion of the program Skateistan enrols students into a public school.
Sixteen year old Khswry is one of the many girls who skateboards with the charity in Afghanistan. She expressed her admiration for the sport, saying, “I could not tell myself I am intelligent, but they told me I was intelligent and I should become a leader. Like learning to skateboard, being a leader can be difficult at first, but you learn that you should try hard and be your best.’
These girls are wonderful examples of female empowerment and they are highlighting the very distances that women can go. Despite their restrictions and repressions, they are exceeding beyond all expectations and boundaries. Skateistan is continuing to grow from strength to strength, continuously supporting the passions of many vulnerable children and connecting them with a priceless educational system. As Fulford-Dobson states, to see these girls ‘having the time of their lives out there where they can be children, and they can have as much fun as other children in the world is a truly wonderful thing‘.
For more information on Skateistan or to get involved, visit their website here.