In Halabja, Raniya, Kalar and Penjween, girls have opened their own football clubs. WADI supports the four new clubs, to enable the girls to follow their passion for sport and develop their talents and independence.
For youth in Iraqi-Kurdistan opportunities for leisure activities are very limited if not rare, as chances for economic independence. This is in particular the case for girls. Families, following widespread social values, tend to keep them under close control, whereby little if any space is left for them to develop their own interests and talents. Girls are strictly assigned domestic and reproductive roles, whereas independent personal development and remunerated employment become a rare exception to the social rules. For many girls this is not enough. In Halabja, Raniya, Kalar and Penjween, girls organized and started their own soccer clubs. WADI, Women Win and HIVOS support the four clubs, to enable the girls to follow their passion for sport, and develop their talents and independence.
Against all odds: Halabja
How important these sports activities are is especially manifest in the case of Halabja. Bombed with poison gas in the late 1980 and controlled by radical Islamic militia from 1994 to 2003, the town exemplifies the painful recent history of Iraqi-Kurdistan. Even today, Halabja remains poor, under strong Islamist influence and with very little if any opportunity to offer to its young people, in particular for the girls. After school hours, they are expected to stay at their family home. The girls soccer team is a special achievement; for the girls to organize and participate for sport activity means to overcome strong social obstacles. This achievement and the sport activity give them confidence and strength. They know why they insist: they want to play soccer and they want their rights as girls to be respected.
Soccer and Human Rights
For the soccer players from Halabja it is clear: the sportive matches and their struggle for girls rights belong together. Domestic violence, forced marriage and ‘honour’ killings are familiar reality in their society. In 2011, following pressure from women’s rights, a law prohibiting violence against women and girl was passed by the Kurdish regional parliament. However, the road from adoption to effective implementation of the law is still long. Even though forced marriage is now officially banned, husbands for young women are still often imposed by families. The possibility to marry and create a family according to will continues to be open to a small elite in the society, where women’s right and freedom receive more respect. At the same time, the adoption of the law helped to start the long term process of change towards implantation, as the idea begins to grow stronger that the struggle against domestic violence is a societal responsibility. The judicial and police authorities have begun to investigate and bring to trail cases of domestic violence. The girls’ soccer clubs contribute to this process and help advance an important change in social perception: girls are not the property of their families. They are not objects, but individuals, entitled to free development of their lives and personhood.
Therefore, the girls at the soccer team in Halabja support a public awareness campaign for girls and women’s rights, under the slogan “you can’t beat me”. This was an initiative of the girls, for which they gained the support of their families. This initiative in Halabja is an inspiration for many other girls and families in the region.
Many girls in Iraqi-Kurdistan now wish to play soccer and join the clubs, but possibilities remain very limited. In very few places sports clubs for girls exist, there is a lack of trainers and “know how”, and no league. To change this situation WADI supports the efforts of girls to create more sports associations in more villages and towns in the region and to establish a girls’ soccer league.
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