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Najma Arefi

Afghan Footballer, Girl Power & Herat City

Panelist, COPA 71 Screening, March 16th. Coop with Institut Français, Amnesty International, QPR, the FA, & Karmabank

  • Check out Amnesty’s Football Welcomes

Within months of winning the national championship with her team Herat City, footballer Najma Arefi had to flee Afghanistan. She talked to Amnesty about settling in the UK, and her concern for her former classmates enduring Taliban rule.

The international community should not accept the Taliban. They should put pressure on them to recognise women’s rights. The Taliban are not changed from 20 years ago, still thinking women cannot do anything. I want every single girl to be free in my country, to do whatever they want. Let them learn!

Najma Arefi

Playing for Freedom


I’m a member of Girl Power – the Afghanistan Development Squad. I’ve been playing football from the age of 13. A girl from our school said, ‘We are going to make a football team’. I thought, No, you cannot imagine to play with boys. But they said: ‘We can play together’. When I asked my father, he said it would be a nice hobby for me. My father supports me a lot. I fell in love with football. I played for Herat City for three years. We went to Kabul for tournaments. In 2021 we won the national championship. We were getting ready for the next game when our coach told us: ‘Please don’t come to training, it is dangerous.’ It was hard for us to accept.

Taliban Takeover

Before 2021, I was in my last year of school doing exams to go to university. It was harsh to live in a culture where the men are not allowing women and girls to speak up. But I was happy that we had our country and our home. I could not imagine that the Taliban would take power. We didn’t expect Kabul would be taken so easily. There were peace talks in Qatar and we were happy: they said they will share the government and will let the girls learn. But all that changed overnight. The Taliban banned us from everything.


We wanted to fly to Qatar but on the day of our flight a bombing killed a lot of people in Kabul airport. Our sponsors, people helping us, said ‘It’s not safe, go back to your hotels or homes.’ We were so scared. We waited one month in hiding. Then we headed for Pakistan. It took us 12 hours to cross the border. When we entered Pakistan, we felt a bit free – no one forcing us to cover up – but it was scary. We lived in a hotel for two months. We didn’t go out or see the sun. Our sponsors sent a lot of applications to different countries, and finally the UK accepted us.