In the Middle East, women who want to play football are often met with either disapproval or prohibition, but not the girls in Halabja, Iraq. In this Kurdish town marked by Saddam Hussein’s notorious 1988 poison gas attack and a long period of domination by conservative Islam, it is football which is now offering women a way forward. Hivos and partner organisation Wadi are supporting the Halabja Girls on their way.
Problems such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence and arranged marriages are hard to fight without a support network. Football is not just a physical outlet for girls and women in Halabja, but a welcome opportunity to leave the house, meet with their peers and be active. It gives girls a “time-out” from omnipresent gender roles and helps them gain the strength and self-confidence to develop their own ideas of a life beyond the rigid demands of tradition.
Although in 2011 legislation (law No. 8) was passed in Iraqi Kurdistan to prohibit domestic violence against women and children, the practice is still prevalent. So the girls campaign against domestic violence with the appropriate slogan “You can’t beat me” and hope thus to encourage vigorous enforcement of this law.
More and more girls in the region are joining football teams. For the 12-year-old Dastan, top scorer of her team in Halabja, the right to play sports is intimately linked to the right to grow up free from oppression and violence.
Find out more about how Wadi and Hivos are supporting women’s football teams in Iraqi Kurdistan.