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Tackling gender based violence through football

Ahead of International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, which will be commemorated on Friday this week, these initiatives are leading the way in addressing violence against women and girls through football

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

At a British Council meeting to assess the impact of the Premier Skills’ programme aimed at addressing the issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan receives a standing ovation after delivering a hearty speech.

In her presentation, Fatuma used her personal experience to concur with the council’s findings that football is a useful tool in changing attitudes towards gender violence among young people.

Born to parents from two warring communities in Marsabit county, Fatuma was always caught in an awkward situation when her mother had to be sent away from the rest of the villagers whenever there was a tribal meeting.

“They feared that my mother would leak information arising from the meetings to her tribesmen, thus frustrating their efforts to protect as well as conduct their rustling activities,” she narrated.

For as long as Fatuma can remember, her kinsmen had been fighting between themselves competing over scarce water and pasture, as well as cattle rustling and political divisions.

People from other parts of the country had resigned to the idea that there will always be fighting in the region, but Fatuma rejected the status quo, and took the bull by the horns to arrest the culture. In 2003, Fatuma, a lawyer by profession, shunned the law corridors and founded Horn of Africa Development Initiative (Hodi) through which she uses football to promote non-violent conflict resolution among the communities.

The initiative, whose maxim is ‘Shoot to score, not to kill’ organises tournaments where the warring tribes play together. “In my county, young boys carry guns like toys.

I resolved to change this and over-time during matches, you see them putting their guns down to play. And as they play, they realise that their ‘enemy’ after all is a human being like them,” she says. The rules of the game are also different, foul game is not punished by red or yellow card.

Rather, good players are rewarded with a green card. Along the way in 2008, she founded a women football team that comprised girls who had been kidnapped for early marriage, rescued from Female Genital Mutilation(FGM), among other forms of violence.

Fatuma has won numerous awards for conflict resolution, including the Hope Through Education Award, the Stuttgart Peace Award and the Beyond Sport Award.

Adopting the same approach to end violence against women and girls in other regions, British Council, through the Premier Skills initiative, has recorded positive results after 17 weeks of working with young people in Mt Elgon, in Bungoma county and Kisumu county.

Estimates from civil society groups and data from the United Nations reveal that Western Kenya has one of the highest proportions of violence against women and girls.

Latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reveal, 45 per cent of women have experienced violence since they were 15 years old and more than a quarter have suffered violence within the last year.

“Over 85 per cent of the male participants who took part in the programme said they had learnt a lot and in our evaluation, we noted a remarkable shift in the reduction of gender inequitable attitudes amongst both boys and girls who took part in the programme,” says Alice Wekesa, British Council manager in charge of the VAWG programme.

At the start of the programme, 59 per cent of male participants thought girls were to blame for rape and this had reduced significantly to 17 per cent by the end of the football and VAWG curriculum sessions.

Tony Reily, British Council director in Kenya was glad that they had managed to use the popularity of the Premier League and the global appeal of football to sensitise young people around issues of violence against women and girls.

“We hope that the outcomes from our work with communities in these two regions will lead to an increased interest in using this model more widely in the country and around the world,” he said.

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