Playing at East Africa Cup is not just an opportunity, it’s a statement
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FIFA's overturn on the hijab ban has now given many Muslim teams the opportunity to compete internationally, but in communities where girls face challenges before they even reach the field, what role can international tournaments like East Africa Cup (EAC) play?

In the Northern region of Kenya, girls from Hodi - a conservative Muslim community - face verbal abuse on their way to practice. So by traveling and competing at EAC, the tournament is more than just a platform to showcase their talents, it's a statement: football is for all, regardless of colour, creed or religion.

Challenges start as soon as we leave the house
Coach of the girls football team, Nadi Sora, describes the challenges she faces when going to meet her girls for practice:

“They [the community] looks down on us, they curse us and say things to us, like ‘you should not disrespect your culture’ but we continue to play because when we play football, we are free.”

Although many parents of girls in the team are supportive, because the girls preserve their modesty by wearing leggings underneath their shorts and keep their hair covered, just days before the team were to depart for EAC, many parents who were influenced by other members of the community, decided to withdraw their daughters from the team. 

“Parents are supportive of us coming here, but then some started talking to other people in the communty who do not agree with what we are doing and then they refused to sign the consent form, so we had to change some players,” adds Nadi.

No role models in the community
Nadi believes on the greatest challenges in the community is the lack of female role models which offer parents and other community members with examples of the impact sport can have on changing the perceptions of women in sport.

“There are no female role models, so there is still discrimination against girls. The whole community enjoys sport, but the girls do not have leagues, we just have tournaments, so we have to wait for a tournament to compete,” shares Nadi.

Football provides more than just an activity
Girls involved in football activities are not just players, they also have a role of responsibility in the community: “We have seminars for community building – we gave girls greenhouses and water tanks and they have crops to look after and use this to tell parents about why girls should be allowed to play football.

Most parents of the team see the benefit of taking part and some parents gave us money to travel here.”

The role of East Africa Cup
“We are here because we want to change minds and share with people our experiences, so that they can see why we play football. We also want to tell people we are not alone and we can play football,” says Nadi.

The Hodi team are not alone, as girls from Pemba, an island near Zanzibar, in Tanzania, is another conservative Muslim community where girls are not fully supported. "Here we want girls to be seen so that people can see them and take notice that girls can also play football," says team leader, Ashura Msabah. 

EAC gives young girls hope that they are not alone in facing challenges and that the stories they take home to their communities will help change the perceptions of women in sport.  

Find out more about East Africa Cup 2012



Football (Soccer)

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