How do you empower young girls?
– By teaching them how to play football!
If the question at hand is to raise confident young women in the rural areas of Mewat and Delhi, the last thing anyone would do is, think of ‘football’ as a solution.
To some (most) it might seem absurd and we wouldn’t blame anyone if it does. Surprisingly, however, our partners at CEQUIN are not the ones to shy away from coming up with creative solutions . In fact, with the kind of work that they have done, we don’t think they really go by the ideas of ‘containment’ or understand the concept of ‘fitting inside a box’.
With young girls in Mewat and the Jamia region of Delhi, CEQUIN took on the task of addressing the need to achieve gender equality and to empower women.
For those who aren’t familiar with the added adversities that both the geographical locations offer; Mewat is classified as the most backward district of India (Times of India, March 2018) and Delhi is placed at the 28th position globally in terms of safety of women (Business Standard).
The girls in the schools chosen by CEQUIN come from backgrounds where parents are minimum wage earners and their major concern for the ‘development’ of kids seldom supersedes regular schooling. They marry their daughters off at an extremely young age. That is the most that their pockets and cultural backgrounds allow.
The question at hand for team CEQUIN was to address girls’ overall development and it seemed very unrealistic to them to limit themselves to lectures and seminars alone. That is when an idea ‘kicked in’- literally! They decided to introduce football as an answer to all their questions.
This, however, was the beginning of everything awkward and laughable. Girls couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of playing ‘a boys’ sport’ and going out in the sun to risk a tan. They were so shy that they wouldn’t even strike an eye contact with the trainer, let alone be enthusiastic about the game.
The team at CEQUIN knew this would be tough but they kept at it and kept coming back to the girls with a football – to teach them the relevance of all the lectures on self-esteem, team play and the importance of a healthy diet.
After many visits and training sessions, this is what happened: “We started noticing that while playing, many of them were no longer concerned about the careful placing of their dupattas around their heads but instead all their focus was on the game at hand. In fact, we noticed that most of them had started tying the dupatta around their waist. By the third round of the camps, 90% of the girls were taking off and laying aside the dupatta while playing. When casual enquiries were made by trainers, the response was, “it’s getting in the way of our game.”
The game helped these young minds navigate their way through feeling shy to feeling a sense of achievement which, to their surprise, helps them convey their thoughts better.
Muskaan, aged 13 says, “ Playing football has been one of the best things I’ve done all my life. Suddenly I feel good about myself, my parents are convinced that I can truly achieve something.”
Once they had established trust with girls and their parents, CEQUIN conducted health sessions, livelihood and career sessions, sessions on gender sensitization and self-defence.
The team at CEQUIN made two friends with one gift. They not only engaged the girls but also managed to strike a chord with the boys in schools.
In Mewat, during the football tournaments, the boys sitting in the audience were passing comments on girls and teasing them but as soon as the match commenced, they were so engrossed in the match that in no time they started encouraging and celebrating, completely forgetting the fact that they were watching ‘girls’ play.
The team at one of the schools says that perhaps for the first time, boys could see the girls as players- as equals!
CEQUIN started with training 25 girls and today with the help of your generous donations they are now working with more than 16,134 girls across Mewat and Delhi.
Following from the tournaments the District Commissioner Mewat, the Block Education Officer and the District Project Coordinator of the SSA department, among others applauded CEQUIN’s work and requested them to continue with the work in partnership with SSA.
CEQUIN has got a lot of recognition and acclaim in the 2 states and now plans to expand this ‘football camp’ model across Delhi. They also went on to become the secretariat for ‘National Alliance of Women’s Football in India’.
Parents, Principals, teachers and classmates- all of them have witnessed the change and would do everything in their power to keep the football camps going.
Girls are unlocking new treasures every day. They have found comfort and power in the comradery that the game offers. Rupa says and we quote, “The team is now like my family and being a part of this strong group of girls is a wonderful feeling. I don’t know how but now I can speak up anytime I want to. I can even talk to my father without being scared. I know I have my team to come back to.”
Girls are too busy feeling empowered and enjoying the newfound freedom that comes from freely accessing space, freedom of screaming passionately on the field, freedom of letting their minds and bodies be and the freedom of realising that ‘they can’!