Equal Opportunity Football: How we are challenging cultural taboos through sport
“Girls shouldn’t be playing football...they need to be at home so they can learn to be good wives”. This was the common response we got after launching our children’s football club last year. Even in a country which still views the role of women through more traditional lenses, we were taken aback by this strong community reaction. But this got us thinking. Could we use our new club to overcome long held gender stereotypes? We didn’t know but it was worth a try!
Originally started as an informal programme where girls and boys could interact as equals, our community football quickly became a success. Children travelled from miles around to the safe haven we created in Tambaya village for a break from their stressful home environments and to enjoy much needed recreation. It soon became clear that both boys and girls were not only becoming fantastic football players - but they were learning from each other. Taking advantage of our existing partnership with Acakoro Football Academy we decided to establish our fully fledged football club.
The benefits for each girl who had joined the club quickly became apparent. Not only did it integrate well with our existing girls empowerment and school learning projects, but the attitude of their peers started to change. Gone were the constant taunts and jeers which were replaced with silence and a growing sense of interest. The boys who played shoulder-to-shoulder with the girls on the team started to see them as equals and not just as future wife material. Returning to their home each day, they brought this new perspective of girls and women with them. Within a few months even the constant chorus of criticism and “no football for girls” we had heard so widely in the beginning started to fade.
The progress the club has made in little over a year has been astonishing. Both boys and girls have equal access to football fields, sports scholarships, professional training from top coaches and vital emotional support. And once the Coronavirus pandemic has passed the club is looking forward to the launch of a new girls football season. On top of this success, we also had a clear answer to our question and that was...yes! It was possible to overcome long-held gender stereotypes and successfully empower girls through the medium of sport. Even though so much has already been achieved, there is still a lot of work to do.
Find out how you can help us defeat gender inequality here.