Breaking gender stereotypes
Through the simple act of playing football, Cherifa and her teammates are challenging social and gender norms.
Many girls in Niger are flung quickly into adulthood. More than three in four adolescent girls are married before the age of 18. According to recent studies, more than one in three adolescent girls, aged 15 to 19 have already given birth or were pregnant in Niger. But, these football teams want to show their community – and themselves that girls can be powerful.
In Niger, there is a general lack of support for girls who want to do more than get married and become mothers. One team member, 16-year-old Cherifa, said she felt playing football had made her stronger.
“Football is not just a man’s game. Girls can play as well. In the past, after school, I went to the playground where boys practice football, but they refuse to play with me arguing that football is not a sport for girls. I was shocked, and in my neighborhood, not a single girl plays football.” She said.
“I was informed there is a football centre dedicated to girls in the city, and my parents encouraged and supported me to join this centre.”
Niger’s society is riddled with stereotypes, like gender roles, that are one of the key barriers preventing more girls getting active. Through the simple act of playing football, Cherifa and her friends are flouting convention and challenging gender norms.
“They told me football is a boy’s sport, I told them anything boys can do, girls can do it as well. That’s how I embarked other girls to the football club. Now, we are playing football with those who didn’t want me to play with initially. They know how I am confident with myself and they appreciate the way I play.”
By showing up for practice today, these girls have already triumphed. They have gained the support of their families and community. Over the past two years, UNICEF together with the National Football Federation organize a national tournament for girls under the age of 17.
“The organization of this tournament goes beyond the question of sport. It aims above all to challenge stereotypes and gender norms. Sport can help girls to place themselves on an equal footing with boys.”
Said Felicite Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative in Niger. “When girls play, when girls go to school, when girls are no longer victims of violence, when childhood is not shortcut by marriage, the world wins!” she concluded.