These are the Somalian women who defy odds to play football

In Somalia, it is a taboo for women to appear in public dressed in shorts, trousers or T-shirts as Islamic scholars say sports clothing are not appropriate Islamic dresses for women. However, some women are defying the strict rules to play football.

It is just after dawn on a Friday as a group of young women arrive at a football pitch in Mogadishu, where they shrug off their hijabs — some changing underneath their billowing veils — to reveal their team kit. Young Somali men stood nearby, some disapproving but all watching closely. The women jogged up and down, dribbled a worn-out ball between colorful cones and did sit-ups, less than 200 metres from a heavily guarded security checkpoint as reported by AFP.

Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Centre, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. Credit: AFP
Pep talk. Credit: Golden Girls Centre Instagram

The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group that launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers forms of entertainment, such as football, to be evil, worse still if women are involved.

“It is obvious that we are scared despite the fact that we put on heavy clothes over our shorts and T-shirts until we get to the pitch. It is very difficult to walk normally with sports clothes—we never wear sports clothing in society,” said Hibaq Abdukadir, 20, one of the footballers. The players wore tights underneath their baggy shorts, and covered their hair, though they still faced criticism for their dressing.

Abdukadir is among 60 girls who have signed up to train at the Golden Girls Centre in Mogadishu, Somalia’s first female soccer club. The Golden Girls Football Centre which was founded by local NGO in 2017 intends to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football with the aim to encourage them to be national women’s football team players.

“Somalia never had a women football team historically. We are happy to form the first women football club in Somalia”, a post on their Facebook page read, “after decades of war we still believe women/girls/youth can turn impossible to possible.” These women are excelling at it apparently, as they won their first cup in the women football cup tournament which held for the first time last month in Somalia.

Female footballers of Golden Girls Football Centre. Credit: AFP PHOTO
The first win for the team. Credit: Golden Girls Centre Instagram

Mohamed Abukar Ali, the 28-year-old co-founder of the centre, said he was inspired to create the club after he realized that Somalia had no female footballers. Meanwhile, many of the girls who have joined the club said they had always wanted to try playing football but never had the opportunity.

“There are so many challenges, from security to lack of resources but that will not deter our ambition to establish female football clubs in this country,”  said Ali. “We believe it is the right time and we should have the courage to think differently.”

An onlooker was quoted saying, “I come to watch them train but frankly speaking, I would not be happy to see my sister doing it, this is not good in society’s eyes because they look naked,” said Yusuf Abdirahman, who lives near the football field.

Mohamed Yahye, another onlooker, is happy to see women playing football, though he is concerned about how the women are dressed. “I think there is nothing wrong with women playing football, the only thing they should change is the dress code, they need to wear something that is not slim-fitting. But as long as their body is not seen, they are in line with the Islamic dress codes,” he said.

However the Golden Girls are not fazed. As Abdukadir said, “My ambition is so high that I aim for the same progress as those female footballers who play for Barcelona.”