A courageous young woman from Chitral, Pakistan with a passion for football on a mission to empower women through sports - Karishma Ali has battled stereotypical views of a community rooted in patriarchy, and she is proof to never back down and to confront the odds. This feature is a peek into Karishma’s journey and we hope it inspires you to stay grounded and develop unwavering self-belief.
Who is Karishma Ali? Tell us about your journey and your passions.
My name is Karishma Ali and I am from Chitral. I am a student and a football player.
I started playing football at a young age but I didn't have girls to play with, so I would mostly play with my dad or the boys in my school, or I would take a ball and just kick it against a wall. Later, I joined a football academy in Islamabad and that's when I improved my game. When i started playing football at the age of 9, I didn't know that I would go on to being the first female athlete from Chitral to represent Pakistan internationally. It's not as easy as it sounds. I remember telling my coach that I wanted to improve my game. He was impressed and happy to see my passion for football, so he would coach me during my free classes, even in May and June in the hot weather.
I am a silver medalist from the Dubai Jubilee Games 2016. I also played for the Pakistan's National AFL women’s team who took part in the AFL (Australian Football League) International Cup during August 2017 in Melbourne.
Through your personal experiences, what are some of the general misconceptions and obstacles you have overcome?
A lot of people in my hometown are not familiar with the concept of women participation in sports. They believe that sports is for boys and men. When I got recognized for being the first girl from Chitral to represent Pakistan internationally in football and AFL, a lot of the men from my hometown were furious. They started attacking me over social media, cursing me and what not.
How and why have you been helping and supporting your local community?
It has always been my wish to give back to my community. I want to share my experiences with the young girls back home and I believe it's very important to empower them.
I started Chitral Women's Sports Club which is the first sports club for girls in Chitral. Last year I single handedly organised a football camp and tournament for girls aged between 10 and 15 in my hometown. The girls and their mothers were so appreciative of the opportunity, and I felt very rewarded by their smiles and goodwill.
The downside though, is the appalling attitude of the male leaders in Chitral. I have received threats and there has been much discussion about me. I believe that to date, I have been very successful in an environment where the odds are generally stacked against females and I am saying this because I believe other girls from my hometown can also come this far.
Why do you feel it's important to encourage girls to play sports or challenge themselves?
Playing sports has many benefits. It builds self-confidence and leadership skills, which is very important for young girls who belong to a male dominant society. It also helps strengthen your mental and physical health which is very important for young girls in remote areas who never get the opportunity to play sports.
Do you feel being an athlete has impacted other aspects of your life? And how?
I think I have only seen positive changes happening in my life ever since i started playing football. I am a student and I manage to give time both to football and my studies. So I think it really depends on how well you manage your time.
Lastly, what's next for Karishma? Share any ongoing or upcoming projects you might be working on.
I hope that my project keeps growing and I get more girls involved in sports. I have bigger and better plans but you will get to find out once it's been done and completed.