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Goodwill Ambassador Shakira, girls football players promote girls’ development through education and sport in Azerbaijan

By Claudia Amico

BAKU, Azerbaijan, 15 October 2012 – Goodwill Ambassador Shakira recently met teenage girls from a UNICEF-supported girls’ football league, encouraging them to inspire their peers to grasp their future, including through continuing to seek an education.

The world famous singer-songwriter talked with the national athletes on how to harness their popularity and the power of football to get more girls to go to school and finish their education, particularly the poor and disadvantaged or those who may otherwise have been married at a young age.

UNICEF Azerbaijan / 2012

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1289/Pirozzi

“Sport is a great tool to (help girls) socialize and also for the government, society in general to keep these kids in school,” Shakira spoke to the girls while taking time off during rehearsals for her first solo concert in Baku. She joined an array of stars at the closing ceremony of the FIFA Under 17 Women’s World Cup.

UNICEF and the Azerbaijan Federation of Football Associations, the governing national soccer body, have joined forces since 2011 to promote girls’ development, taking control of their lives and their future, including through education, an inclusive sport environment and girls’ participation in sport.

“The Government of Azerbaijan as well as civil society in general should work hand in hand to be able to guarantee that the every child goes to school. No matter what gender – the boys or the girls, or no matter where do they live. The areas more problematic are rural areas and so we need to focus on those areas,”Shakira said.

The role of UNICEF is to teach young footballers healthy life styles, life skills and child rights, and how to communicate them to their peers. The teams travel to rural small towns and villages, engage local girls in a “friendly” football game, then sit and talk with them, passing on these life-giving messages. Last year, seven teams were trained on how to serve as role models and advocate for girls in sports. The remaining 11 teams will be trained this year. Specially designed booklets and materials were distributed among players and their community and will continue to bring these life-enhancing messages to rural girls and their families through grassroots community sports events.

The players and coaches talk to the girls about choices they make in their lives, including child marriages, which still happen all too often in Azerbaijan, according to a recent study.

Child marriage, the focus of this year’s inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, is a fundamental human rights violation and has an impact on all aspects of a girl’s life. It denies girls of their childhood. It curbs their right to education and also endangers their health: complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death globally among girls aged 15 to 19. It is a major obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal and the development of healthy communities. In Azerbaijan, some parents still prefer having their daughters get married early, rather than continuing education, something a boy is considered to need more. Nigar Jalili, 15 years-old midfielder loves football and cherishes what it gives to her.

“The benefit of football is a healthy life and making (more) friends. Before we had friends mostly from the school. Now, we have friends in every part of the city.”

Sanay Fatullayeva, 13, says besides this healthy lifestyle message, she has another important one to tell her peers.

“Girls must be free in their decision on whom and when to marry. It is totally wrong when girl was forced get married with boys they don’t even know personally,” she said.

Both those girls and others in the team were overjoyed at the chance to meet the Colombian singer and share her passionate advocacy work for global education, calling for the expansion and improvement of education, especially for the most disadvantaged children and youth.

At a cosy, intimate chat on Friday where Shakira sat on the floor surrounded by a circle of giggling girls, she listened to their experiences as role models. She watched them demonstrate their football talents and received a football signed by all of the members of the team.

She encouraged them all of them to do what it took to make their dreams come true. She herself knew at an early age that she wanted to become a singer and was able to realize her dreams.

Answering one of the football player’s question why she chose to become a singer, Shakira said, “It was like a vocation, I have always felt in my heart that is what I wanted to do. I was ten years old. At thirteen I had my first record contract.”

Together Shakira and the girls’ football team helped to promote girls in sport and in education so they can become equal players in society and achieve what they wanted to do.

“It is an unfortunate fact that there are girls so dispirited with the education they are receiving, they really consider (that it is) better to get married or drop out or do something else than to complete the whole education. So, that’s why UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to make sure schools are as inclusive as possible, ” said Mark Hereward, UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan.



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