Shamila Kohestani a voice for equality
Imagine the life of Shamila Kohestani.
On Tuesday morning in a breathtakingly peaceful corner of the Arizona desert, this beautiful young college graduate spoke about growing up in Kabul under Taliban rule.
With a microphone in hand, in an accented English that reflects a perfectionist's spirit, she spoke of a world that seems impossibly remote. A world where women are beaten for wanting to play sports -- in her case, soccer; where arranged marriages are used to silence them; where women have to marry the men who rape them, wanting to shame them for leaving home in pursuit of something more, like wanting to play sports.
"The government doesn't ensure women's safety," Kohestani said.
The espnW: Women + Sports Summit is filled with ideas and stories, not just personal ones. There are stories told in statistics, like the one cited by marketing executive Emma Cookson: If a CEO has a daughter, his company will shave an average of 3 percent off the discrepancy between men's and women's pay. But Kohestani's is different because it speaks to the heart of why women play.
Sometimes it seems like the battles women fight in the United States are incremental; raising the percentage on the dollar women make, upping the opportunities for women to play sports, to coach men, to serve on corporate boards, to break the more stubborn fragments of the glass ceiling.
But beyond the bubble of the West, there is no Title IX. Rahul Brahmbhatt, who was on the "A Global Perspective on Women's Sports" panel with Kohestani, spoke about trying to start a soccer program for kids in one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of India.
The only problem: no girls. So Brahmbhatt and his group, Magic Bus USA, set out to find the reason why. It turns out that mothers did not want their daughters to play; they were concerned for their safety and modesty. Brahmbhatt addressed the problem head on, by getting mothers and grandmothers themselves on the field for a soccer tournament.
The women arrived skeptical in saris and burkas, but a few brave souls dove in and soon there was a competitive soccer game in progress.
"At the end they were like, 'You will not deny our daughters this program!'" Brahmbhatt said.
For a time, as the grip of the Taliban loosened on her country, Kohestani was also able to play soccer. She played with boys and was literally spit on, but she would not be stopped. She became the captain of the Afghan national team and attended college in America. And her fight is not finished back home, where she is seeing the return of oppressive circumstances for women.
In the most important ways, women in the west have realized the right to choose their own destiny; but there are millions of women and girls living in places where leaving the house isn't an option.
The W Summit is a place where a voice like Kohestani's can be heard and resonate, where people who helped realize equality on one side of the globe can see there is more work to be done where voices are silenced.