Scoring Against Patriarchy: Meet Haryana’s Football Girls
Shehrat and over 250 other Mewati girls have defeated patriarchy on their own terms, paving the way for change.
The Quint DAILY
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Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
I played football for one of the best schools in Delhi and was told the most sexist things like, “How is this ever going to help”, “Girls don’t have the skills to play football”, “Kaali ho jaogi (You’ll become dark)”. So when I learnt that I was being sent to Haryana’s Mewat region – one of the most backward areas in terms of gender – to cover girls who were playing their first football tournament, I’d expected to find similar struggles in their stories. I was almost right.
About 102kms from Delhi, Nuh’s Mewat Model School for boys played host to teams from five Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas in the blocks of Nuh, Taoru, Nagina, Punhana and Firozpur Jhirka. None of the five girls schools could host the tournament as they didn’t have a sizeable field.
As I entered the premises, I was greeted by the sight of girls donning jerseys in shades of purple, red, green, yellow and blue. However, as opposed to wearing the usual football shorts, the girls were wearing full track pants with their jersey tops. After a quick warm-up, all the teams lined-up for a march past before the final between Jhirka and Punhana began.
Girls from both teams swarmed the ball after kick-off; there was no formation and no tactical passing, however, each girl on the field oozed confidence. Unafraid of the ball hitting them, the girls ran tirelessly from one corner to another as the coach screamed instructions from the sidelines. It was only later when I was speaking to some of the girls that I realised what a massive transformation they had undergone to be able to play this way.
Under the ‘Football for Girls’ initiative by CEQUIN – an NGO working on empowerment of females – girls from these five districts were not only introduced to the game of football, but also received life skills and leadership training, career guidance and health sessions. The football tournament marked a culmination of the year-long efforts which encouraged girls to play in a region where women are hardly even seen in the public sphere.
Paltry Literacy Rate
Mewat’s enrolment figures are a clear indication of the disparity between genders in the region. While the figure continues to climb for the boys from primary to senior secondary (52.5%- 72.8%), in the case of girls it dwindles from an enrolment rate of 47.4% at primary level to a mere 27.1% at the senior secondary level.
According to ‘Breaking Barriers: The Status of Adolescent Girls’ Education in Mewat, Haryana’ report, Mewati women have a literacy rate of 36.6% as compared to the average of 65.9% in the rest of Haryana. Most parents pull their girls out of school due to lack of middle or high school in the proximity of their homes, the lack of female teachers, absence of separate toilets for, and most of all the social stigma of not allowing girls to study.
‘Now We’re Not Scared of Anyone’
16-year-old Shehrat was the most articulate among girls I spoke to in Nuh that morning. The only girl from her village at the tournament, she not only spoke about the region’s backwardness but also about parent’s hesitation to send their girls to school.
Mewat is backward when it comes to girls. Initiatives like these help empower girls even in studies. Some girls in Mewat get to study, some don’t. Boys are allowed to do everything, but not girls. I wonder why it is so.Shehrat
The class 10 defender also spoke about overcoming a fear to become a more confident person. “I was initially scared to play. The fear has gradually gone away. Now we’re not scared of anyone. Initially I was shy,” she said.
I want to bring change in Mewat. Hopefully we can study more and Mewat can progress.Shehrat
“Especially the girls should do well and make everyone proud,” she concluded as I took her mike off and thanked her for her time. I was waving her goodbye as she said something I will never forget. She said, “Main bhi badhe hoke aap jaise bahar jaake kaam karna chahti hoon. Mujhe bhi aap jaisa banna hai (I want to grow up and travel outside Mewati for work. Even I want to be like you)”. Shehrat and over 250 other Mewati girls have defeated patriarchy in their own, paving the way for change.
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