Danish sportswear company Hummel revealed its new design for Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team’s jersey on International Women’s Day, Mar. 8. The design is unique in its incorporation of a hijab–a head covering–and a base layer that completely covers the player.
Hummel consulted former team captain Khalida Popal and the Afghanistan Football Federation throughout the process of developing the jersey. Popal embraced the collaboration, saying it resulted in a uniform that she described as reflecting “the strength of the Afghan character and [incorporating] the very best of the country’s traditions and heritage,” in a statement released by Hummel.
Islam is the official religion of Afghanistan, with 99 percent of its citizens practicing the religion, according to the CIA’s “The World Factbook.” Although there are two branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, both place emphasis on modesty for women.
The hijab embodies the idea of modesty that is central to Islam. However, FIFA–the world’s governing body of soccer–would not approve hijabs to be worn during matches until 2014. Even then, there was the chance that they would interfere with play, and pose a disadvantage to a player in hot weather.
The new jersey eliminates such drawbacks, while allowing the women to observe their faith. The hijab is made of a lightweight fabric that adjusts to the shape of the player’s head.
“I think the hijab is definitely a step in the beneficial direction for Afghan women,” Sophie Levy, a sophomore at Harvard-Westlake School, said in an interview with JSR. “I think that as long as a hijab [isn’t imposed] on them, it’s a good thing for Afghan women, because it enables them to do what they love, comfortably.”
However, ever since the formation of the Afghan women’s soccer team in 2007, there has been great controversy in Afghanistan about whether Muslim women should be allowed to play soccer. Popal had to flee her hometown of Kabul for Denmark after receiving death threats in 2011. Kabul officials denied the team’s request to practice in the capital city’s main stadium.
Popal believes that the new jerseys will empower women and promote gender equality.
“The national-team shirt symbolizes all of our culture, our tradition, our history,” Popal said in the statement. “I think the Afghanistan women’s team shows the huge potential football has as a unifying force. I like to think that we have given a lot of women in our country fresh hope.”