I read an article yesterday which really moved me, about the sole woman to represent Afghanistan in this year’s Olympics. Tahmina Kohistani describes being discouraged by crowds who would “jeer and hurl insults at her and question why a woman would even think of taking to the track” during her training sessions in her home country.
I can’t imagine the extent of the difficulties this woman must have faced in preparing for the Olympics. Her country is in the process of rebuilding itself after years of war, and the concept of women’s autonomy is still relatively new. She describes running for the first time with shoes the day before representing Afghanistan in Poland.
She says that she is racing for the women of Afghanistan, to show them that despite society’s expectation that their lives revolve around their husbands, children and homes, they have the right to pursue their own ambitions.
She could say she is racing for women everywhere in the world. Although most of us in developed countries have grown up expecting the respect and freedom that Tahmina has had to fight for, her experience is uncomfortably familiar to any woman who has experienced a tradition heterosexual relationship. Where tradition tells men that they are almost obliged to be ambitious and successful, and that they have the right to expect support from their female partners, society still frowns a little on the woman who ventures out of her designated roles as spouse and parent and harbours ambitions of her own. She is seen as selfish and uncaring for placing her attention on herself, and is seen to be failing in her social contract to support her male partner. Society does not hold males to the same expectation that they will be supportive of their female partner’s ambitions.
Am I being pessimistic? Probably. But let it serve to remind us that we are part of a sisterhood. One woman’s struggle, while she may be ahead of or behind the times, is part of every woman’s war. Women like Tahmina are not only representing their homelands, they are representing us. Tahmina represents every woman who, while being true to her morals, values and beliefs, also wants to be free, happy and living her dream.
Which reminds me of a quote by Virginia Woolf:
“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”