When you hear the word “Football”, what strikes you first? May be the names Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Diego Maradona or even Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. Now, Can you tell us the name of a woman football player? H’m … an Indian woman footballer? You might be thinking of taking to Google Baba for this.
FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 is going on in Paris and guess what- Some village girls in Bihar are aspiring to join in the FIFA party one day. The chance for the girls to continue dreaming is very much alive despite severe funding cuts, and in order to keep the flame of hope still burning, a few organisations got togeher to form Bihar Women’s Sports Promotion Association (BWSPA).
For these girls on the margins- those coming from the Dalit and extremely backward Muslim communities, football (soccer) is much more than just a game, For them, and those brave women’s rights organisations who help them, the tomboyish and contact sport of football is a tool to further the cause of women’s equal rights to common spaces, self expression, choice of pastime, respect, and recognition.
In Bihar state, where the sex ratio is as low as 918 according to 2011 census, one can understand that the girl child isn’t appreciated. In the context of the kind of patriarchal set-up of most of the rural society, the participation of girls and women in team sports is a distant dream. Illiteracy of parents, poverty, out-dated social attitudes and practices are also some key factors that discourage girls from playing a contact sport such as football.
To realize this dream come true, Bihar Women’s Sports Promotion Association (BWSPA) collaboration with NGOs like Gaurav Gramin Mahila Vikas Manch, Izad, Nari Gunjan and supported by NGOs, educational institutions, and local clubs, is going to organize an exhibition women’s football match on July 3, 2019 at St. Xavier’s College of Management and Technology, Patna.
This initiative is one of its kinds to bring girls from slum, younger working women from rural area and rigid society to the open football ground.
Ms Keerti, Founder Member, Bihar Women’s Sports Association says, “ Since environment for sports in Bihar is not so favourable and sporting talents could not get appropriate platform and nurturing, so we came up with this initiative to break the stereotype and gender imbalance.”
In order to boost the confidence of girls on personal level, attain standard fitness level and combat nutrition deficiency, BWSPA decided to promote women sports. They have been hunting immense talent in girls in different sports and are attempting to provide them the platform to showcase their talent.
BWSPA will work systematically in two different steps to achieve its objective. First at grass roots level, local NGOs connect with people, family and society and try to bring social change among them by making sports as a medium or tool. At the next step, BWSPA provides exposure and continued support to the identified talent by giving them access to sporting tournaments.
There are many inspiring stories of girls which have come out in the process. These girls are acting as part of the relay race passing the baton to upcoming generation making the foundation strong.
“It is very encouraging that now many stakeholders like academic institutions, students’ organizations, media organizations and sponsors like Caritas Suisse, Oxfam, SIS, Anshul Homes, Tarumitra, St, Xavier’s Colleges and many more are coming forward to support this initiative of BWSPA and take it to another level.,” Ms Keerti said.
Because of gaining such support, BWSPA has plans for conducting state and district level tournament more regularly so that Bihari girl power can exhibit their talent on the highest level. And it might happen one day that when you are called upon to name a woman football player, it would be on the tip of your tongue, no need for Google Baba.
-Written by Ravi Ranjan Kumar