An Olympian in high heels brings rare dash of glam to Afghan polls
In high heels, dark glasses and heavy make-up, Robina Jalali looks more like a celebrity looking for a photo-op as she talks to eager youth and frowning men.Afghanistan’s former Olympian Robina Jalali.But stretch your memory and you will remember the glamourous 25-year-old as the sprinter who was hailed as a hero during the Beijing Olympics, despite finishing last.She was the only Afghan woman athlete to participate in the events and hogged limelight for running in track pants and a headscarf.Jalali is running again, this time for the parliamentary elections on September 18.She is one of the 406 female candidates contesting for the 64 seats reserved for women in the 249-member lower house, Wolesi Jirga.And she has again dared to be different. Unlike others who are covered up in the traditional burqa and robes, Jalali campaigns in trousers and designer kurtas with her head covered with a colourful stole.Perhaps this is the reason she is facing criticism from some quarters as being a non-serious candidate who is just using the women’s quota to enter politics.”If you want to run for modelling, you need a pretty face and a wonderful body. But for parliament, the criteria are different,” a leading woman parliamentarian took a jibe clearly aimed at Jalali. Jalali is not bothered by criticism.After all, she has faced it earlier. The international media may have hailed her courage when she participated in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and earlier in Athens in 2004, but back home she got little support or encouragement.advertisement”I was the only girl running with men…,” she said. “I did not have popular support. People spoke ill of me going on trips.” People’s disapproval didn’t matter. What was worrying was the threat from the Taliban.”When I started in the sports world, I got threatening leaflets from the Taliban thrown at my house,” Jalali said.But that did not stop her from pursuing her dreams then. And they have failed to deter her now. Like other candidates, particularly women, she is also facing intimidation from the Taliban who have threatened to target anyone associated with the polls.But being a woman in Afghanistan, fear is something Jalali has lived with. She says she doesn’t care about the Taliban and is not going to run away.To her critics who question her suitability for the political office she is aiming for, Jalali cites her experience with her father’s non-profit organisation and her stint with the Kabul Bank as a secretary for three years.She is one of the nine women tipped to win a seat among the 90 running in Kabul. And if she wins, she has her priorities clear-to focus on equal rights for women.To achieve her goal, she has broken yet another tradition.She remains single in a country where most women are married off as teenagers because marriage and husband could come in the way of pursuing politics.But it remains to be seen how much success Jalali gets in her mission at a time when the Afghan government is seeking reconciliation with the Taliban.