On January 2014, I visited Koussouka Inspection officials and proposed a soccer tournament for 6th grade girls, with the championship to be on March 8th, in honor of International Women’s Day. I explained I had an old girls soccer trophy from when I was younger which I could donate to the town for the event if they would financially support the tournament. What became so exciting was witnessing the town authorities mobilize the community to turn this modest idea into a large, dynamic event. My expectation was that there would be a few practices pre-game practices, games the week of March 8 on International Women’s Day and a simple post-game finale. In February 2014, a formal budget was created. I was curious to see if the town would identify and collect the funds to support a “girls soccer” match; to my surprise, they did! By visiting merchants and other community members, requests were made for support. Through community donations, the fundraising goal of $128 was met. At some of the schools, teachers independently led awareness campaigns before the first practices to explain the rights and abilities of girls to play soccer, and the necessity of boys supporting girls in the process. We emphasized that girls only need more opportunities to engage in activities such as soccer, and that they already have the skills and capacities. During the game, I heard the Master of Ceremonies restate, “differences among boys and girls are more a matter of opportunity given than natural capacity”. Messages such as these led people to reexamine their concept of girls’ capabilities, and provide them with new opportunities to expand their perspectives and appreciate the strengths that girls have, just as much as boys, and to consider positive gains that come out of providing girls and boys with equal opportunity to advance and succeed in life. This is a success for gender equality and girls’ empowerment that left me very impressed by my community.
Six schools participated in the girls’ soccer competition, each with a team of 15 girls. In total, 90 girls were given the opportunity to participate in soccer practices, and gain the confidence and experience of being leaders and receiving support from the community. The finale was attended by local authorities (Prefet, Mayor, Inspector, and head of the Women’s Association), as well as a large number of community members. Seeing the town value the event just as much as a boys’ soccer tournament was a significant gesture I hope made an impression on the girls. This event was such a success that the town has decided that every year on March 8 the girls’ soccer tournament will take place to celebrate girls’ and women’s empowerment and gender equality, and provide the opportunity for local girls to build their confidence and abilities to engage in sports the same way boys do. This simple idea, to give the girls a chance to have their own recreational time and to learn new skill, evolved into something much greater!