Afghani Women Get Physical

When you think of Afghanistan, images of rock-hard abs and Stairmasters aren't the first things that leap to mind. But when Freshta Farah, a 35-year-old Afghan, heard that her government was offering small-business loans to people willing to set up shop in Kabul, she decided to open her country's only full-service gym for women. "Originally, I was going to start a driving school or an Internet cafe," Farah says. "But my friends here all wanted a gym, so I decided to do that instead." Women in Afghanistan are no strangers to exercise, according to Farah. But until she unveiled the Afghan Sisters Sport Association in 2006, they worked out at home, alone, with no access to proper equipment or training. Of course, operating a women-only gym in a country where many women still wear burkas is not without its challenges. "The gym isn't popular with the public," she admits. "Sometimes I worry that someone will damage the gym or attack me." Recently, after one of her trainers was injured in an attack that killed the trainer's husband, a number of clients stopped showing up. Despite the danger, Farah looks forward to opening more gyms, either in Kabul or out in the more conservative provinces. "It is more dangerous there," she says. "But maybe things will be easier in the future."

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