8 February 2018

From 25th-29th October 2017 Mumbai was the setting of a leadership workshop for 30 female young leaders from six football for good organisations from Myanmar and across India, culminating on the 29th with a football3 festival, where they were joined by 500 local girls and boys from the slums of Mumbai. The diverse group took to the pitch irrespective of gender, caste, religion or social background.

 

Both the leadership workshop and the festival were part of the “Girls play, girls lead” project funded by the German Federal Foreign Ministry with a corresponding event held by YFC Rurka Kalan in the Punjab region of India later in the year. The overriding theme, gender equality, brought girls and boys together onto the pitch to give girls an opportunity to participate in a typically male-dominated sport, strengthen their leadership skills but also raise awareness among boys about the issue.

 

In part, the project emerged in response to common problems that women face in the region with regard to gender. The Indian constitution grants women and men equal rights. However, strong patriarchal traditions persist in many areas of society- particularly when it comes to women in sport. “15 years ago, there were no girls playing football,” said Ajay Sheety, a football coach at OSCAR Foundation. His colleague, Simran Sunita Sanjay, who works as a Project Manager, added that “First their fathers, then their brothers, then their husbands take decisions for girls and women in India.”

 

OSCAR Foundation has been challenging gender norms since long before the football3 festival took place. When the organisation was first established in 2006 and up until 2011, there were no female participants and it was difficult to advocate the programmes the foundation offered and to convince parents to allow their daughters to take part. “It was easier for the boys” Ashok Rathod, Co-Founder of OSCAR Foundation said. When it came to girls, “it was hard to change the parents’ mindset” he added. That was until he gave the parents of his male participants an ultimatum: “If you want your sons to continue here, then you must bring your daughters, too.” Today, the organisation implements an array of football for good programmes and works towards education not only for the youth beneficiaries of the programmes, but also of the wider community.

 

YOUNG LEADER WORKSHOP

 

During the week preceding the festival, a workshop for female young leaders brought together 30 young women from across India and Myanmar to participate in a series of sessions hosted by the OSCAR Foundation with support from DISCOVER FOOTBALL, a leading non-profit organisation in the area of female participation and women’s rights in football. Following the successful female empowerment project in Cambodia in 2015, this was the second workshop solely dedicated to female young leaders that was organised by streetfootballworld and a network member in Asia. 

 

The workshop opened on the topic of the Sustainable Development Goals to address pressing social issues in the participants’ communities, one of which being gender equality. Some of the girls spoke openly about their related experiences and about some of the challenges they faced as a result of their gender. For many of them, it had taken time to convince their parents to allow them to even play football back at home, let alone take on a leadership role in the field of football for good.

 

To address the issue, OSCAR foundation set about determining together with the young women how female leadership within their organisations could be increased. The group of young leaders then participated in role-play activities to discuss their aspirations for the future, to strengthen their leadership skills and the belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

 

Much to the girls’ excitement, the day ended with the group attending the U-17 World Cup semi-final between England and Brazil. The tickets had been generously provided by streetfootballworld’s partner FIFA.

 

The young women were also introduced to streetfootballworld’s football3 methodology. After familiarising themselves with the theory of football3, the young leaders received further training sessions on essential skills needed to work with children and youth, such as an introduction into child protection policy and nutrition. For many of them it was the first time they had ever addressed such topics and a few confessed that they had never thought about the importance of nutrition when working with children.  

 

SHRADDHA’S STORY

 

Many of the young leaders attending the workshop had themselves overcome life challenges on the road to helping underserved children and youth. Each of these young women had their own unique remarkable story to tell. One of them was 20-year-old Shraddha.  

 

Shraddha first got involved with OSCAR Foundation at the age of 18. At the time, her friends in the village where she lived, about an hour’s distance from Mumbai, were never really active and preferred to stay at home. She did likewise due to her shyness. One day, she saw an advertisement in her school about a weekly event at the school with “inspirational people”. She decided to go. One of those inspirational people was Ashok Rathod from OSCAR Foundation. He told the students about his work and gave a football training session. “His story inspired me and I wanted to play football as well,” Shraddha said.

 

Shraddha was determined to bring football to her village; however there was no pitch nearby that she could use. There was only one and that was used by the police to practice on. Shraddha recounted how she went to OSCAR Foundation to tell them of her problem and how the staff there taught her how to negotiate with the police. With their support, Shraddha went to the police to ask if she could use their pitch. They agreed to let her do so twice a week.

 

In January 2017, Shraddha began playing with 15 children. Convincing the younger boys in the streets to train with her was easy. With the girls it was much more difficult. Ashok advised her to speak to their parents and also to persuade the boys in the team to bring girls to the sessions. It worked – only 10 months later 59 children were attending with a mix of girls and boys aged 10-15.

 

Seeing how, in parallel, Shraddha was becoming more lively and enthusiastic and even improved her performance at school, her mother was thrilled and supported her project. Her father, however, remained critical. “Girls should not stay outside,” he told her and asked “What are you getting out of it?” But her mother countered: “Shraddha was born to do something else.”

 

When her father realised how Shraddha’s football sessions had turned her into a known figure in the community and earned her much respect, even he was convinced. 

 

Exchanging testimonials helped the workshop participants to not only get to know each other, but also to feel more “confident” and “powerful”, as 21-year-old Shivan from Nagpur commented. “We are facing the same problems. It strengthens me to hear how they deal with them,” she said. This was something she had also experienced three years previously when participating in a UN youth leadership training course through her organisation Slum Soccer in South Korea. It sparked an important realisation: “I had this misconception that other people in other countries do not have any problems,” Shivan recalled.  

 

FESTIVAL DAY: MEETING ON AN EQUAL PLAYING FIELD

 

After an intense four days of workshop sessions, it was time to venture outside onto the pitch. The 29th of October may have been the hottest day ever; however that did not curb the enthusiasm of the 500 young girls and boys that were hurrying off the buses that had brought them to the pitch: It was festival day! During the proceedings the female young leaders took on a variety of roles from handling logistics to taking match scores. They coordinated the allocation of tasks among themselves deciding who was best suited to each particular item on the day’s to-do list.

 

Every team played three matches in mixed teams and according to the football3 methodology. For many of the children it was the first time they had played this unaccustomed style of football. 13-year-old Dimple from Mumbai exclaimed excitedly: “I love it, because we can make our own rules!” Her fellow participant, 15-year-old Azaz, said that his favourite rule, among those he and his teammates had agreed upon, was to make the goal of a girl count double. “The girls play very well,” he added, “I am proud to see them play.” Another first for many of the participants was playing in a team together with the opposite sex.

 

As the day drew to a close, the winners of the football tournament became irrelevant. The participants had learned lessons far more valuable than winning. Boys, who had previously not even believed that girls could play football, were taught otherwise. Dimple, the young female player from Mumbai, highlighted one of the day’s greatest wins: “The boys respect us girls here.”

 

This article appeared in FOOTBALL4GOOD Magazine Issue 5/February 2018. Read more stories from the field of football for good here