Equality Through Skateboarding: Afghan Girls Skate With Skateistan

Kids in Afghanistan — especially girls — have few opportunities to play sports. But Skateistan, "Afghanistan's first dedicated co-educational skateboarding school," hopes to change that.

In a country where a whopping 50% of the population is under 16, reaching youth can have a profound effect. Skateistan hopes to teach classes in computers, music, art, and "life skills." The organization also hopes that skating will help break down Afghanistan's formidable class, ethnic, and gender barriers. Children of different socioeconomic backgrounds skate together at the school — currently housed in what the Times called "a decrepit Soviet-style concrete fountain," but slated to move to an indoor/outdoor skate park at the end of summer — and half the students are girls. Though most sports, including bicycling, are seen as off-limits to girls in Afghanistan, Skateistan says skateboarding is more accepted.

Obstacles, however, abound. A January article in the Times told the story of Hadisa, whose brothers beat her with wires for skating with poorer children. "I'm not upset with my brothers for beating me," she said. "They have the right." And many girls may have to stop skating when they reach puberty, and are prohibited from going out without veils or spending time with unrelated men. Skateistan founder Oliver Percovich says the indoor portion of his skate park will offer separate classes for girls, but nine-year-old Maro says, "If my family doesn't let me skate when I grow up, and they tell me I need to be at home, then I have to respect my family. And I won't be able to skate."

Maro's grandfather says "Families are still careful and thoughtful about letting their daughters out. We're entitled to be very strict and afraid because negative consequences from the Taliban time are still out there, and men do whatever they want to women." He says it may take ten years for the situation to get better. Programs like Skateistan may help. Maro says skating "gives me courage, and once I start skating, I completely forget about my fears." Percovich adds, "Afghan kids are the same as kids all over the world. They just haven't been given the same opportunities. They need a positive environment to do positive things for Afghanistan and for themselves." Perhaps Skateistan will help them do those things, one kick-flip at a time.

Skateistan [Official Site]
Skateboarding in Afghanistan Provides a Diversion From Desolation [New York Times]