Karachi, Pakistan – Sughra Rajab, 19, and Shamsia Ali, 21, were just two of the young players representing the Hazara Quetta team at the National Women Football Championship in March this year.
The two traveled hundreds of miles from Quetta, in southwestern Balochistan, to the city north of Karachi.
For Ali, coming to Karachi and playing at the venue was a “dream come true”.
Meanwhile, Rajab called it a “permanent opportunity”, adding that “being here is amazing and I love it”.
Playing their favorite game without fear and worry outside the stadium seems like a good relief not only for the two of them but also for the whole team.
The girls belong to a small Hazara group in Pakistan. Most of the Hazaras live in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan but the poorest. The Hazaras have been persecuted for a long time because of them, threatened with threats and bomb blasts.
Since 2005, nearly 2,000 Hazaras have been killed in atrocities in the region, according to a report released by the National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan in 2018.
Amid gangs, violence and terrorism, football has become the hope of the community, especially girls.
Wearing black handkerchiefs and shorts with black leathers under the hot sun makes them uncomfortable and their memory of living in the city of Hazara in Quetta remains fraught with their own problems and dangers.
“We try to keep up our daily routine, visiting friends and relatives, playing sports,” Rajab said. “But when security comes, we stay home. We are very concerned about safety. ”
Due to security concerns, traveling to Karachi to participate in the game was not easy for the players or their families.
“I lost my uncle by abusing him two years ago. In my heart I always feel confused, ”said Rajab.
For Ali, it was difficult for him to trust his family.
“My father said that if men from our community could not be safe, how can we expect women to be safe,” Ali said.
But it was Saba It, the team’s coach, who was able to convince the parents after consulting with them and mentoring them for several months.
“In our area people are constantly being harassed and killed. I had to prepare and start confirming the families the year before the tournament, ”said Saba, a former Balochistan player.
He also said that the killings have given Hazaras a better chance of being a better place.
“Dangers and fears are very common in everything we do, they are rooted in every decision we make in our lives,” he said.
In January this year, 11 coal miners from the Hazara region were captured and killed in Machh, Balochistan, while fighting for the ISIL (ISIS) army.
The villagers set up camp to ask for justice. He insisted that the funeral be held until Prime Minister Imran Khan visited them.
When Prime Minister Khan, initially, called the request, he stepped back and visited the families on January 9.
After the uprising, Saba’s long struggle to gain the trust of the parents by allowing the girls to go was severely disrupted.
Satisfying them was a difficult time. When he rebelled, some parents left. The girls call me and cry all the time, ”she said.
Initially, Saba’s commitment to helping Hazara women and empowering them encouraged young girls to take an interest in football and later led to the formation of the team.
In 2017, she set up handicrafts and sewing facilities in the city of Hazara, inhabited by everyone, including young Hazara women who have lost relatives.
After seeing beautiful pictures of her playing days hanging from the inside of the meeting, attendees were amazed.
“We saw a picture of Saba as a football player and it surprised us,” Rajab said.
Initially, Saba took up football training by chance. But it was not easy.
“We would go out early in the morning so that no one would see our lessons. We studied in the yard every week. At that time, we did not have the opportunity to get a decent football.”
Within a year, their desires grew. They want to make the right team, play regular football and represent their community at a professional level.
With these reminders, Saba applied for permission from Hazara Football Academy to use their venue.
Living in fear
At first, he was ridiculed and taunted. People are skeptical of women’s participation in the sport. But perseverance opened the way when he was approved.
“After repeated requests, the school allowed us to use their facilities. We paid 15,000 Pakistani rupees. [$98.5] one month and I teach three times a week, ”said Saba.
A 2018 Human Rights Watch report described how residents of Hazara residents living in Quetta are displaying open prisons due to violence. Harmful behavior has been a major factor in Haza’s history.
Jalila Haider, a human rights activist and listener, said of the women, “there are twice as many dangers in public”.
“Initially, they were discriminated against because they were women. This discrimination is on the rise because they are from the Hazara region, “Haider told Al Jazeera.
“Issues of sexual immorality and fear in the community are increasingly harassing the women of Hazara. They are already at risk because they have lost their uncles, relatives or fathers.
Saba, with many of the girls in the group, remains mentally disturbed.
“Every Hazara family has been involved in bloodshed because of terrorism. The girls are always confused and worried, ”said Saba. “Some players are always breaking things. At times, they even fainted. ”
Saba has a brave face as a teacher but sometimes, as a person, she can be frustrated by fear.
“Sometimes I don’t even know what to do. I took responsibility for the girls. ”
“For the first two weeks, I cried a lot all night long. There are many fears about security. ”
Back in Quetta, Saba started a family planning workshop, with the aim of removing the blanket for fear and giving the girls a chance to play.
The session was organized by the principal of a girls’ school and in a positive way, the parents realized the importance of football in the lives of their daughter, says Saba.
“I told them that the girls were confused and that they wanted to leave. “He has to play football and get skills outside the venue to feel good,” said Saba.
In Karachi, Ali said the change in nature gives him confidence.
“I meet outsiders, I learn a lot from other players and what they do in the game. Mentally, I feel like I now want to do better on all fronts, ”he said.
Ali Hunardost, 40, is the father of one of the team’s players. Unlike many families who did not want to let their daughters play and play, Hunardost was determined to keep his daughter alive.
“People are scared for their lives but I think we should not be so negligent. Progress only comes when men and women are given equal opportunities,” said a father of five.
Hunardost’s 20-year-old daughter has been playing football for two years.
“He was quiet at school but he always did well in sports so I encourage him to start football education. I want to help him in all his endeavors. My other daughter plays karate.”
Hazaras’ violence and harassment in Balochistan has continued despite checks and security checkpoints throughout the region. According to Haider, this is still unknown.
“We can never know exactly whether things have changed. Sometimes we feel comfortable because nothing has happened and all of a sudden, something happens.
“Hazaras needs to feel safe and financial resources are needed in all sectors. We want encouragement and equal opportunities, in this way we can contribute to the economy, ”said Haider.
In the meantime, Ali and Rajab want to practice and play international football.
“Everyone loves fame, and so do we. I hope if we could just stay in Karachi after the hardships and deprivation, think about how we can make things better when things are easier. ”