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Girls cricket team hits ‘em for six

© UNICEF/2010/ Naser Siddique
Twelve year-old Bappi Dey steps up to bat. The girls practice their cricket skills in a flat field on the outskirts of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

By Naimul Haq and Jessie Mawson

16 September, 2010. Cox’s Bazaar : Outside her home made of bamboo sheets on clay wall, 12 year-old Bappi Dey practices batting in preparation for a friendly cricket match in her neighbourhood. As an opener, her team mates always depend on her for good score.

Bappi, along with eight other girls from her Hindupara neighbourhood, walk about half a kilometre twice a week to practice throwing and catching, running between the wickets, bowling, batting and wicket keeping. All the team members are from poor families and their parents mostly depend on fishing, farming or small businesses to earn a living.

Although there are no proper sports grounds in their community, the girls have managed to find one flat field amid the rough, sloping terrain of Cox’s Bazar which they use to play on.

Challenging traditions

Located on the world’s longest sand beach, Cox’s Bazar is situated some 430 km south-east of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. Here, in November last year, UNICEF Bangladesh in conjunction with partner NGO, BRAC, formed an eighteen-member female sports team - the first of its kind - as part of the International Inspiration project. International Inspiration is a joint initiative by UK Sports, the British Council and UNICEF that aims to enrich the lives of 12 million children in 20 countries through the power of sport and play.

The formation of the girls team in Cox’s Bazar is significant, and has proved challenging, as most people in this region are socially conservative and live according to strict religious customs. Typically, adolescent girls are expected to adhere to ‘purdah’, a religious practice whereby women cover their bodies in public and generally avoid being seen by men who are not directly related to them.

“It was an impossible mission at the beginning,” recalls Ayuba Husna, BRAC Area Coordinator for the Empowerment of Adolescents project, adding, “The idea of girls playing sport in public was readily rejected, especially by religious leaders who were initially opposed to such social change.”

Rallying community support

BRAC runs monthly mother’s forums in Cox’s Bazar, along with open community meetings, and BRAC officers used these gatherings to generate discussion about the prospect of developing a girls’ sports team in the area. Despite some heated debates, the ice eventually melted and the majority of parents, religious, and community leaders agreed that girls too needed to be engaged in outdoor sports activities to aid their physical and mental development.

 “It was not smooth sailing”, says Husna “We faced many obstacles and a lot of opposition but, in the end, the hardest part was selecting the final team members! We had so many enthusiastic girls interested in joining the cricket team, but due to the age limit and other factors we were forced to turn many down”.

© UNICEF/2010/ Naser Siddique
Bappi (12) and her team mate Subarna walking to meet their friends for a practice match.

Making the cut
A national cricket coach eventually selected the team members from 15 different ‘Kishori Clubs’ (UNICEF-supported adolescent clubs) run by BRAC. Of the 1500 applicants, only 18 lucky adolescents made the final cut. The team participated in an intense 12-day training session, and then spent a further six days training at the district stadium. The girls’ skills have improved rapidly.

“It is amazing,” says coach, Farazi Nurul Alam of the project. “I am particularly amazed to see the psychological strength in the girls. While they may not be up to international standards just yet, they have the determination needed to rise to the top.”

A new identity through sport

“My team mates and I dream of playing women’s cricket for Bangladesh one day”, says Bappi - Captain of the team. 12 year-old Mita Dey, agrees, “Look at our national cricket team. Most of those players were our age when they were selected. If they can rise to be heroes, why not us?”

“Usually, boys are thought to be superior” says teammate Shumi Akter, who comes from a remote village in the Pahartoli hills. “In school and in the neighbourhood, it is boys who make up the sports teams - not girls. Now we can finally demonstrate our strengths!”

“Prior to joining the team I frequently suffered weaknesses”, adds 13 year-old Nasima Akhter, “But physically I feel much better now I am playing and sweating regularly”.
These days in Cox’s Bazar, it is common to see the girls in their red and green jerseys practicing in public. In fact, local people often gather to watch them play limited-over matches. Such acceptance has only been possible as a result of sustained commitment on the part of girls involved.

“Sport has given me a new identity in my community,” says wicketkeeper, Sumaiya Nasrin, daughter of a rickshaw puller and the youngest member of the team, “People respect me. I feel like I have a voice now”.

UNICEF is currently working to expand this project, and form female sports teams in other parts of the country. It is hoped that girls will be given the chance to play not just cricket, but football, hockey and basketball.

DONOR:

This project is funded by the UK National Committee for UNICEF as part of the International Inspiration project, an initiative that aims to enrich the lives of 12 million children in 20 countries through the power of sport and play.

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