Girls in Afghanistan are taking a leap forward — one ollie at a time.
"Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)," which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject on Feb. 9, captured the stories of young skateboarding girls challenging gender norms.
"This movie is my love letter to the brave girls of [Afghanistan]," director Carol Dysinger said when accepting the award.
The documentary covers the Afghanistan nonprofit Skateistan, which teaches girls in impoverished neighborhoods to skateboard, and also educates them so that they can join or re-enter the Afghanistan public education system.
"They teach girls courage," Dysinger said in her acceptance speech. "To raise your hand. To say, ‘I am here. I have something to say. And I’m gonna take that ramp. Don’t try to stop me."
Skateistan was started by Australian skateboarder and researcher Oliver Percovich, who visited Afghanistan in 2007 and let teenagers borrow his skateboards shortly after. In 2008, Percovich began hosting organized skate sessions, which Afghan girls started to attend.
According to Skateistan, most Afghan girls are not allowed to participate in sports, but beause a skateboard is considered to be more of a toy, it gives them a "loophole."
Currently, Skateistan runs two facilities in Afghanistan, as well as a facility in Cambodia and in South Africa. Its courses are free for the children, and it hosts multiple girls-only sessions taught by an all-female staff each week.
Afghanistan is one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to gender equality.
"The country ranks among the least favorable on the Gender Inequality Index and the literacy rate for women is among the lowest in the world," according to UNICEF. "Violence against women and girls is rife and the majority don't go to school."
According to a 2017 report from Human Rights Watch, 3.5 million children in Afghanistan are out of school, and 85% of those children are girls. Only 37% of adolescent girls are literate.
Some of the reasons indicated in the report are lack of female teachers in a culture where many families do not approve of their daughters being taught by men, as well as the fact that one-third of girls in Afghanistan are married before age 18, and encouraged to drop out of school after getting married or engaged.