Girls can score too
The FIFA women’s world cup has been taking the world by a storm. With over three million people in China and Canada tuning in to watch the opening match on the 6 June, it’s amazing to see women’s football is growing popularity and getting the recognition it deserves. Of course, the viewings still don’t compare to the FIFA men’s world cup, but it certainly a step in the right direction.
To think, in the 1920s the women’s game was effectively banned, with the FA at the time deeming the game of football to be "quite unsuitable for females". Now women are kicking those stereotypes into shape and proving women and girls can score too.
At Plan International UK, we recognise the role the game of football plays in empowering women across the globe. Here we share two stories, from Togo and Brazil, which highlight how our football projects are helping to build confidence within adolescent girls and break social norms.
36 girl footballers are scoring all the goals in Togo
Beneath a mango tree in the village of Kasséna, in the tropical West African nation of Togo, a cluster of elders gathers around a tiny transistor radio. All of a sudden, the men emit a collective cheer and punch the air. The village team has just won the local football match – and the players are all girls.
“When they win, you hear the name of our village everywhere on the radio and TV,” smiles Gnoungou Bataya, the village chief. “Nowadays, we’re so proud of our girls.”
Thanks to Plan International UK’s ‘Girls in Leadership Through Football’ project girls’ football has gradually become more and more popular in this central part of Togo.
Nowadays, village communities eagerly await the local girls’ match schedule. This year, says the chief, the villagers organised a special bus to transport spectators to the championship final, because no one wanted to miss out on the game. Wild scenes arose as grinning girls in colourful football kit stood next to their male team colleagues. Normally shy teenagers got up and grabbed the microphone, addressing the crowd. Never have village girls in Togo been so vocal or so active, never have their smiles been so wide.
There are now 12 girls’ football clubs in Togo with 36 members – comprising not only girl football players, but girl referees, sports reporters and illustrators. Regular tournaments and a 15 match community championship are organised and supported by the national sports authority. The girls are trained by 24 coaches, 13 of whom are women. As part of the programme, they receive team kit, footballs, trainers and arm and leg guards. Six girls from the project have already passed their exams to be professional district referees. Two girls have been recruited to the capital Lomé and will attend the National Football Academy.
“Girls are our power,” says the mother of one 14 year-old footballer, Kadidja Kadambara. “Thanks to girls’ football, we have seen an important government minister visit for the first time ever. That’s amazing – and it’s down to the girls.”
“Plan International UK has created a revolution in local attitudes,” agrees the president of the Parents’ Association in Langabou. “Before this project, no-one would have believed that the girls had such talent to give to football or that they could talk through a microphone with such confidence to a huge, crazy crowd!”
At the 2012 Olympics in London, only two African women's teams were among the 12 nations competing. The triumph of becoming a woman footballer in what is still very much a man’s world seems all the more extraordinary in Africa, where tradition dictates that girls must cover up – making football kit unusual to say the least – and often pushes women out of school into early marriage and a future of household chores and childbearing. For a girl brought up in such a society, the very act of playing sport is radical and courageous.
The point is perhaps most eloquently put by an Imam from the village of Koussountou: “With this football project, Plan International UK has managed to change fundamental attitudes towards girls. For the first time, I’ve seen men carry a girl to celebrate her achievements. This is truly a vision of the future.”
Sara is ready to tackle the world
Two years ago, Sara was chosen to be part of Plan International Brazil’s Girls’ Football Project.
According to Sara’s mother, the 16-year-old from Brazil used to be a shy, quiet girl, who was afraid of joining the project.
With little knowledge of how to play football, Sara had her mother’s support from the start and it spurred her on to tackle her fears and reach for her goals.
“I didn’t know how to play anything, but I’ve made progress,” says Sara. “My brother used to criticise me saying footballs weren’t toys for girls, but now he calls me and teaches me how to play.”
As well as learning how to play football, Sara has gained a wealth of other skills.
Plan International UK’s project runs workshops which educate children about their rights, gender, citizenship, ethnic background and sexual and reproductive health. Thanks to the workshops, Sara now feels capable of talking and discussing these issues with others.
Sara’s mother, Maria, 52, is happy that her daughter is taking part in the project as she can see a positive change in her.
“Sara has always been quiet and charismatic,” says Maria. “She respects everyone and studies hard.”
Plan International UK’s project has given Sara the confidence to take on a number of additional activities. She juggles her school work with household chores, homework, reading and playing the guitar.
Sara feels Plan International UK’s football project has given her the confidence to pursue her dreams and achieve her goals. It has even inspired her to work with an organisation like Plan International UK in the future.
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