By Mr. Musa Milupi- Executive Director (CLUBHOUSE USA)
Sport has the power to change the world in way that little else can. The words of Nelson Mandela will always be a powerful reality, as seen in Mutare with the annual festival that saw CLUBHOUSE debut girls’ soccer with a game between Sheni and Rujeko primary schools; a groundbreaking move. Around the globe opportunities for young girls to be involved in recreational activities are still fewer than those for young males; the encouragement for them to do so is even more scarce. This has nothing to do with the motivation to participate in an activity any girl desires – it has everything to do with the encouragement and support. Given the opportunity and inspiration – as CLUBHOUSE did with the girls at Sheni and Rujeko primary schools – girls can get the chance to see the power that moving beyond societal confinements has. The girls’ soccer game between the mentioned schools was fiercely contested, raising spirts and feeding the passion of all the students, officials, and community members; a testament to what girls can do for communities given the opportunity from a young age.
For decades girls have faced the uphill struggle of participating in sports that society considers “masculine,” like soccer. Girls have been encouraged to limit their participation to more “feminine” sports like netball which is met with structural, financial, and social support whereas girls’ soccer is met with hostility, skepticism, and sometimes neglect. This is seen at governance level as well with minimal number of agencies and sports associations put in place to change this phenomenon. While it is very easy to come across an organized body supporting girls’ netball, the contrary has been the reality for soccer. Without the entities, agencies, institutions, or associations in place to encourage unrestricted girls participation is various activities – using soccer (the most popular sport) to spearhead this breakthrough – it is difficult to enable change. It was not only encouraging and inspiring to see girls on the field competing while being cheered only by several students and community members, it was evidence that a structured effort can empower girls with increased involvement in activities.
This empowerment does not merely stem from participation in extra curricula activities like soccer, it provides a foundation on which the empowerment can grow from. Watching youth girls in impoverished communities participate in organized and competitive soccer enables other youth and community members to witness a barrier being broken. When crowds are being moved not only emotionally but physically – pep rallies and dances in the stands – all are there to witness the ability of girls to exceed expectations, given the opportunity to do so. By knowing what they are capable of doing and achieving in endeavors outside the stereotypical confinements this belief of progress is carried into ulterior spaces (education, service, leadership). The participation of girls in sport in the developed world is difficult and even more so in developing nations, but it is essential for not only girls’ empowerment and development but also for the perception of girls’ capabilities.
When gender stereotypes are challenged and tackled hope is created for anyone marginalized by the very stereotypes. Change in perception from others, robust support systems, and increased belief in the ability to perform from the community will help fuel the vehicle of change and opportunity for these young girls. If the girls can be respected and be seen as a source of inspiration and jubilation on the field – in endeavors beyond just netball – that same can surely be duplicated off the field. This is not the kind of change that occurs overnight or over a fortnight, it takes desire, commitment, and the willingness to go against the status quo. This is why the festival’s inclusion of girls soccer was ground breaking and serves as a starting point. Going forward CLUBHOUSE aims to create more opportunities for girls to be at the forefront of initiatives; leading community service events, helping organize leadership seminars, helping organize discussions in which CLUBHOUSE receives feedback from community members and ambassadors, to mention a few. These are the efforts CLUBHOUSE aims to make to ensure that efforts initially made are not in vain.