Lawyers join Hong Kong fitness fundraiser to support women in Afghanistan as oppressive Taliban regime returns

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Eliza Jiang’s heart sank while watching news out of Afghanistan last month of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.

“I was tearing up,” says Jiang. “Those women and girls have been pursuing their dreams for 20 years, only to be stripped of them. I can’t imagine someone entering my life and taking it away.”

In the days after the South Asian country’s return to Taliban rule, members of the new regime made vague vows concerning respect for women’s rights. Despite the pledges, many women feel the freedoms they gained in the last 20 years are slipping away.

“There is real and palpable fear among Afghan women of a return to the Taliban’s brutal and systemic oppression of women and girls during the 1990s,” United Nations’ High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet stated at last week’s General Assembly meeting.

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Afghan women’s rights defenders and civil activists, in Kabul, Afghanistan, call on the Taliban to preserve their achievements and education. Photo: Reuters

Bachelet spoke of how women’s rights are being “progressively excluded from the public sphere”, including being prohibited from appearing without a male guardian and increasing restrictions on their right to work.

The High Commissioner said that “first and foremost”, women and girls must have full and equal access to essential services, including health care and education; be able to work in every sector of the economy; be free to move without restrictions; and live free of all gender-related violence.

“In short, Afghan women and girls’ human rights must be upheld and defended.”

Moved by what was happening in Afghanistan, Jiang – a Hong Kong-based lawyer and co-founder of boutique fitness studio, Flye Fitness – got proactive.

“I was looking for charitable organisations in Hong Kong supporting women in Kabul but then thought, ‘Why not us? Why don’t we raise funds and awareness?’”

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Jiang has enlisted fellow lawyers to join her “Sweat for a Cause” fundraiser. Photo: Edmond So

Jiang is referring to Women In Law HK, a non-profit society providing private practice lawyers, in-house counsel and other industry professionals a solutions-based approach to gender equity.

She tapped some of her female lawyer friends and “Sweat for a Cause: Fundraiser for ‘Women for Afghan Women’ Emergency Relief”, taking place on September 29, was born.

The in-person (Lambda Lounge, 108 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island) and virtual event, from 7pm-9pm, is also supported by Flye Fitness, a hip studio in Sheung Wan that Jiang co-founded.

“The event’s motto is ‘move, sweat, party for a good cause’,” she says. “For this event, we are calling on Hong Kong’s professional community to support this fundraiser for Afghan women and girls.

“It will be a fun upbeat workout to the great tunes, live DJ and performances, and a chance to win prizes,” she says, adding zero dance or fitness experience is required.

“This will be a judgment-free, female-only, safe space to move and let loose.”

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A Flye Fitness dance class. Photo: Flye Fitness

All proceeds for the fundraiser go to Women for Afghan Women, a grass roots organisation that promotes women’s rights and provides protection for women and children in Afghanistan.

“When you empower women, you help families – when women become self-sufficient, families gain,” says Jiang.

Philanthropy is in Jiang’s blood. Born in Guangzhou, she grew up in Panama and studied law in Canada and the US, before settling in Hong Kong.

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Michelle Bachelet is the United Nations’ High Commissioner. Photo: Reuters

“I’m a first-generation child of immigrant parents and in Panama my mum would organise charity events for underprivileged kids and other vulnerable people,” she says.

“I didn’t come from a wealthy family but my sister and I were taught core values such as diligence, gratitude and hard work and the importance and privilege of a good education.”

She says hosting a fitness fundraiser made sense. “I had a studio and the teachers,” she says.

“Fitness is a way to build bridges and connect with others who might be far away but share common aspirations.”

Donations are open for one month after the event. For details of the in-person event, visit here.

For the virtual event, visit here.

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