It’s five pm and I’m hustling to the soccer field after proctoring exams all afternoon. I don’t actually play football, but some of the female teachers and staff were gathering to play a match against the AUIS Eagles, our women’s football team.
I play goalie. I’m really bad at it. But it’s lots of fun and I haven’t gotten hit in the face once!
Here’s the deal. I’m playing with a group of women, both Kurdish and Iraqi, in the Middle East.
Women in sports has been a long contested issue in this region; it was just last year that Saudi Arabia allowed women to compete in the Olympics. Many countries openly and actively discourage girls and women from participating in sports. It is often of mixture of religion, politics, and cultural norms that are used to keep women out of sports.
They are told it is unacceptable, that it will make them unfit for marriage, that soccer or any sport is not for women. In many places, like Saudi and Iran, women are not even allowed to attend matches. I recall reading a story a few years ago about women in Iran who dressed as men and sneaked into stadiums just to watch the games.
And here we are.
Their coach Ms. Leah is a fantastic person and a driven role model. Coaching a team that rarely gets to play ‘real’ matches solely because of a lack of other female teams. So they play games against the female faculty and staff, and we do our best to keep up!
They are truly a wonderful group of young women; pioneers on the field. And I look forward to risking my shins and nose in future matches.
Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.