For many years in Afghanistan, women were not permitted to play outdoor games. They were banned from playing under the former Taliban government. One of the banned sports was football, known in the United States as soccer. But the rise of a national women's football team is a sign of change in the country.
The Afghan women's team recently went to Pakistan to compete in the South Asian Football Federation championship. The games were played ay Jinnah Stadium near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The Afghan team did not win any of its games. But the players seem hopeful that they will do better in the future. They also hope the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, will take more steps to support women's football in Afghanistan.
Twenty-one-year old Frozan Tajali is the captain of the Afghan women's team. She says that increased involvement in international events is helping the team improve its skills. She says that a four-team female football league was organized in October. The teams played in Kabul. She adds that the football league helped in identifying players for the national team.
She says, "women are now free and can play football in Afghanistan. We recently organized the league and 20 girls came from one province alone to Kabul to take part in the league."
Twenty-year-old Yalda Arghandiwal came all the way from the United States to represent her country at the football championship.
She understands the cultural limits on women playing football and other sports in parts of Afghanistan. However, she says, things have improved.
"There is a lot more brighter cases in Afghanistan, it is not just the Taliban taking over and nobody has any rights. We do have rights. It is more free. We have a president who is trying to make the country better for us. And yes, the women now are getting better and as you see, this is a big example for you. They are out here playing soccer so that should be a big improvement that yes, Afghanistan is improving as a country and they will own the future."
Yalda is from Kabul. She moved to the United States 10 years ago with her family. While there, she started playing football. She says the Afghan team must improve to compete with countries like India and Nepal.
"Yeah, we lost but that does not matter. As long as we tried our best. We tried really, really hard and we worked how we want to work. It is totally fine. This is the just the beginning for Afghanistan national soccer team and for the women of Afghanistan. This could be a big start and it could just lead us into a more brighter future."
Yalda was one of five female Afghan players who live abroad. But she and the others return to Afghanistan to represent the national team in international events.
Monika Staab of Germany is an advisor with the International Federation of Association Football, the organization better known as FIFA. She watched all of the teams compete at the South Asian Football Federation Championship. Ms. Staab says that she saw great improvement in the Afghan team's performance since she first saw the team play in 2007.
"Afghanistan women want to play. I know the Taliban and all these people who say women should stay at home, things are changing we are now in 2014 and we have to give the girls the opportunity. We have to push them move on to play, let them play."
The football players wear black head coverings and black leggings in all of their matches. The women do this to obey the rules of their country's strong Islamic culture. The Taliban may not be in power, but males and females remain on unequal footing in Afghanistan.
I'm Jonathan Evans.