Kicking Out Patriarchy, Embracing Change

Kicking Patriarchy
The story of how girls started coming out of their homes to attend soccer camps
With an emphasis on sending out a strong message against child marriage in Rajasthan, the organisation collaborated with HAQ (Centre for Child Rights, Delhi), with the support of the Australian High Commission, to mobilize girls ages 10-18 to play football. The objective was to use sports, in particular football — which is traditionally seen in the villages as a ‘male sport’ — to break gender norms, help girls move beyond their family confines, take greater control over their bodies, be able to better negotiate their own aspirations and ultimately prevent their own early marriage, as well as those of others. This programme also encourages married girls to step out of their traditional roles of daughter-in-law, wife and mother.
In November 2016, a Kishori Khel Utsav (Sport Festival) was organized in Meena Ka Naya Gaon as the first major event of the project. The playground was cleared of the long-standing squatters with the help of villagers, local panchayat and tehsildar (revenue official). About 350 girls attended the event, many among them travelling on tractors from remote villages to reach the venue. Some came to just witness something they had never seen before. Nearly 400 children and guests participated in the camp. Everyone was fed by the Meena Ka Naya villagers. The parents of these girls participated in the closing day of the coaching camps. Local resources were organized for the Kishori Khel Utsav by the families of Meeno ka Naya Gaon to feed 400 people. In Chachiyavas, only four girls came to the first coaching camp. These girls then went back to their village, encouraged their friends and made a team of 26 girls who started playing football on a private farm land in their village. They then met the chief of the Zila Parishad (District Elected Council) demanding a playground for the village. The chief promptly allocated Rs. 25,000/- from the district council fund and called his engineers to prepare the field. Their team was led by 12-year-old Payal who was awarded the best player and best goalkeeper in the final camp. These Chachiyawas girls also prepared a letter and gave it to their school principal requesting for their classes to finish 15 minutes before the scheduled time to give them enough time after school to practice football. When they were not granted permission, they had their parents sign the demand and re- submitted the letter to the school authorities. This time, their demand was granted. Seeds of unity and solidarity amongst the girls were sown through football. In the first residential camp, girls of the same village stayed together. However, in the subsequent camps, girls from different villages stayed with girls from other villages of their own age. Activities were decided based on the girls’ consensus. This allowed the girls to develop new identities, make new friends and negotiate among themselves. To help friends get family approval to play, girls formed groups to go to each other’s homes to talk to parents in case their friends missed practice sessions. In some cases, project staff also accompanied the girls. Football training has provided physical fitness training such as running, forward, lateral and backward jumping, etc., basic football skills including footwork, ball passing and control, dribbling, running with the ball, use of legs and body for ball control and use of physical strength. Girls were put into groups of four for focused training in special skills required in the specific field positions of their choice, personal orientation and acquired skills. The aim was to prepare the girls for competition at the district, state, and national level. Football became a medium of engagement with all village stakeholders and it proved to be a good way to challenge everyone’s thinking on gender and child rights.