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3R-UNICEF All Women’s Futsal Playoffs empower girls to fight AIDS

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007
Two young girls test their futsal action at the playoffs in Kuala Lumpur.

By Azah Yasmin Yusoff and Indra Nadchatram

KUALA LUMPUR, 4 March 2008 – More than 1,000 girls and women from across Malaysia came together recently in a spirit of sisterhood and empowerment to unite against AIDS.

With support from the Manchester United Football Club’s ‘United for UNICEF’ program and Malaysia’s innovative TV show ‘3R’, the 3R-UNICEF All Women’s Futsal Playoffs were held for the second time to help young girls and women take control of their lives and keep safe from HIV.

Maria Kamal, 18, has been playing futsal (a version of football with five players on each side) since she was 5. For her, the game is about more than just working in teams and being competitive.

“I like playing futsal because it has helped me socialise with people and to show the boys around my area, and those who know me, that even though I am a girl, I can be better than them or the same,” said Maria.

It is this attitude and learning experience that UNICEF wants to harness in girls and young women in Malaysia.

Women and girls, the new face of HIV

More than a third of all people living with HIV around the world are under the age of 25, and almost two-thirds of them are female. In Malaysia, the proportion of women and girls living with HIV has increased dramatically in the last decade or so.

© UNICEF/2007/Izwina Mohd Din
UNICEF Malaysia National Ambassador and ‘3R’ TV host Kartini Ariffin talks about HIV prevention with students from the Sultanah Aminah Secondary Girls’ School in Johor Bahru.

UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Advisor for HIV and AIDS, Wing-Sie Cheng, believes that equipping girls and women with confidence to protect themselves and their families from HIV is key to turning the tide against the epidemic in Malaysia.

“Tournaments like these are important,” she said. “Girls have fun, enjoy the day and participate in the games. And they get an opportunity to exercise free choice and exercise decisions in what is good for them. It is a very good confidence-building process for girls and women.”

Invented in Uruguay in the 1930s, futsal is played either indoors or outdoors on a basketball court-sized pitch. In Malaysia, some 100 teams – including 31 school teams – came together for the second 3R-UNICEF All Women’s Playoffs.

In addition to vying for the championship trophy and cash prizes, players were entertained by local celebrities and cheerleading teams during the intervals, while the ‘3R’ TV hosts, who are also UNICEF Malaysia National Ambassadors, quizzed them about HIV and AIDS. Playoffs held in Johor Bahru, Penang and Kuala Lumpur were all in support of the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign launched globally by UNICEF in October 2005.

Taking HIV education into schools

The ‘3R’ hosts took the playoffs a step further with special HIV education workshops in schools around Malaysia, helping over 1,000 students learn about HIV and how to keep the virus at bay.

Her Royal Highness Raja Zarith Sofiah, consort to the Regent of Johor, who launched the first playoff in Johor Bahru, welcomed the joint 3R-UNICEF initiative as a valuable response to help girls and young women develop life skills to tackle HIV.

“HIV is a big problem in Malaysia, but not many people want to acknowledge it,” said Her Royal Highness. “A program like this means the young people and those who have no knowledge ... will have some awareness about the disease.”

For the students who participated, the workshops were an illuminating introduction to lessons that may one day save their lives.

“I have a clearer picture about HIV and how to go about my social life,” said student  Kavitha Nandarajah, 17.

“Now, at least I know how to prevent myself from getting infected by the HIV virus. We should have this workshop in all the schools around Malaysia so that the students know what to do.”






UNICEF Malaysia National Ambassador and ‘3R’ TV host Celina Khor reports on the 3R-UNICEF All Women’s Futsal Playoffs.
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