Denmark’s Nadia Nadim reflects on her escape from the Taliban

All Nadia Nadim needed was a chance. A chance to get an education, a chance to study medicine, a chance to play soccer.

She would not have stood a chance had she stayed in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan when she fled with her mother and four sisters.

Using fake passports, they fled to Pakistan, flew to Italy, and then boarded a truck that they were told would take them to England. They made it to Denmark, where they ended up in a refugee camp.

The detour turned out to be one of the best things that could happen to the then 12-year-old Nadim, as not only did she discover football in Denmark, she also started a new life there.

“When I was young in Afghanistan, I wasn’t really involved in anything,” said Nadim, who leads Racing Louisville with six goals in 11 games. Louisville plays Angel City in the Los Angeles team’s final home game of the regular season on Sunday. An Angel City must win to keep their playoff hopes alive. But Nadim is not allowed to play, to be available for it. After being injured in the 26th minute of Wednesday’s loss to Portland, her availability on Sunday is uncertain.

“I wasn’t allowed to play the game,” she said of life in Afghanistan. “I wasn’t allowed to be part of the education system. But I think once I got out there, whether it was Denmark, England, [the] USA I would have managed to reach the heights I wanted. Once access is there, I know I’ll kill him.”

This access allowed Nadim to become the sixth top scorer in the history of the Danish national team. She won a league title in France, scored the first goal at a European Championship, earned a medical degree and learned to speak eight languages. In 2018, Forbes named her one of the 20 most powerful women in international sports.

Denmark's Nadia Nadim (left) reacts at the end after losing to Spain at Women's Euro 2022 in July.

Denmark’s Nadia Nadim (left) reacts at the end after losing to Spain at Women’s Euro 2022 in July.

(Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

None of this would have – might have — would have happened if Nadim had stayed in Afghanistan, which is why she greeted the return of the Taliban last year with sadness and horror.

“Devastating,” she said. “I thought we were on the right track towards progress and a better future for girls. We gave the key back to some idiots who have a mindset that doesn’t belong in this century.”

According to the United Nations, human rights abuses against women and girls have increased since the US left and fundamentalists regained control of Afghanistan. Thirteen months ago, 3.5 million women and girls were enrolled in school and 21% of the workforce was female. More than a quarter of the country’s lawmakers were women.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s hard for me to understand how unfair that is.”

— Nadia Nadim, on the treatment of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule

Under the Taliban, women were systematically excluded from public life. The new government has no women cabinet ministers and girls have been banned from attending school after sixth grade and from working outside the home, which women are required to remain except in emergencies.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Nadim said. “I have a hard time understanding how unfair that is.”

Nadim, 34, has lived outside of Afghanistan for almost twice as long as she has. That time and distance has given her a rare perspective. While the Taliban have enforced a strict form of misogyny, Nadim’s family is proof that any woman, given a chance, can achieve remarkable things.

Shanice van de Sanden from the Netherlands, left, hugs Denmark's Nadia Nadim.

Shanice van de Sanden of the Netherlands, left, hugs Denmark’s Nadia Nadim after a match at Women’s Euro 2017

(Patrick Post/Associated Press)

“There are so many girls who don’t have that access just because they were born in a place where people have a different perspective on how a woman’s life should be lived.”

– Nadia Nadim

Nadim’s mother Hamida had the courage and wisdom to smuggle her daughters out of Afghanistan after her husband, a national army general, was killed by the Taliban. Her younger sister Diana is a seven-time Danish boxing champion and her aunt Aryana Sayeed is one of the most popular Afghan singers in the world – something she could never have become had she not fled to her homeland last summer. The Taliban later moved to ban most forms of music.

But while Afghanistan is the most striking example of women being denied equal rights, it happens everywhere, says Nadim.

“Having access and equal opportunities is key for women athletes and scientists,” she said. “There are so many girls who don’t have that access just because they were born in a place where people have a different perspective on how a woman’s life should be lived.”

Denmark's Nadia Nadim attends a match at the Women's EURO 2022 against Finland in July.

Denmark’s Nadia Nadim attends a match at the Women’s EURO 2022 against Finland in July.

(Rui Vieira / Associated Press)

Football, the most global of games, has given Nadim a platform, and her ability to speak multiple languages ​​has given her the ability to address these injustices, leading to UNESCO’s 2019 World Champions for Girls’ Education and appointed women. And when her playtime is over — a day that’s not near, she says — her skill as a surgeon will give her the opportunity to make even more of a difference in people’s lives, something she said she can do with the humanitarian group could prosecute Doctors Without Borders.

What Nadim doesn’t care about is politics. The Taliban gave her the idea.

“I’m too straightforward to succeed in politics,” she said. “But I would like to be where decisions are made.”

All she needs is a chance. Denmark’s Nadia Nadim reflects on her escape from the Taliban

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