#FootballPeople: Spreading the message of equality through sport
Experts say that the pandemic set gender equality back at least for 10 years. The existing gender inequalities in patriarchal societies like India had increased during the pandemic. There were increased cases of domestic violence and violence against women and girls (VAWG) and a lack of opportunities and means of income for women. “The deep economic downturn accompanying the pandemic is likely to have a distinctly female face,” said António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
In rural India, the lockdowns have furthered the patriarchal notions, as girls and boys are often not treated equally at homes. Girls are falling victims to the patriarchal structures of society more than in the past. To reintroduce rural communities to the concept of gender equality and to help children learn this value from childhood, Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) is using sport as a tool for inclusion in social development, to spread the message of equality effectively.
In these efforts, ASA partnered with Fare Network and Fundacion Laliga to run the #FootballPeople Weeks campaign in the rural communities of Anantapur, to educate children and communities on gender equality, through a mixed-gender football festival. It is a time tested fact that sport is an effective tool for inclusion to use in social development. Sport brings people of all backgrounds and provides them with a level playing ground. ASA believes in leveraging the power of sport for the development of children and youth in rural communities.
Conducting a football festival in the pandemic was a challenge in itself, as it involved children and community members. ASA staff chalked out protocols to be followed, based on the guidelines provided by the Government of India, ensuring that all the safety standards are followed by everyone, for the safety of the players, coaches, officials and parents.
A 9-day U-13 mixed-gender football festival was organized from 10 to 18 October 2020. With the help of ASA Mandal football clubs, 404 children (251 boys, 153 girls) from 40 teams participated in the event, held in 10 different locations. The event served its purpose effectively - it brought boys and girls together, gave them an opportunity to play as equals, thereby sending a message of equality into the communities.
"Playing along with boys, as an equal, makes me more confident. It's been a while since we played due to COVID, I'm glad to be back on the grounds," said Netravati, one of the participants.
This #FootballPeople Weeks event garnered a lot of attention and a good response from local communities, parents and other stakeholders. Talking about the event, D. Anil Kumar, a parent, said: “In the times when women are equally performing as well as men in all walks of life, it is important to spread the message of equality in every nook and corner, #FootballPeople Weeks is doing just that in rural communities, educating parents and children that both boys and girls are equal. I have a son and a daughter, both are playing today. I’m happy to see both of them playing as equals along with other children.”
The event did not just focus on sport and gender equality, but also on building awareness on COVID-19. Children were instructed on how to remain safe during the pandemic, and around 600 face masks, 600 hand soaps and 300 awareness pamphlets were distributed to the participating children.
In these times, when a pandemic has created panic in the world, where livelihoods have been lost, twhere mental and physical health are suffering, women and girls in the marginalized sections were impacted the most. Events like #FootballPeople Weeks are spreading the much-needed message of equality in the rural communities of India, and across the world.