Women’s football defies stereotypes, inspires change in Cameroon

Monique (top row, fourth from left), 18, and her teammates are challenging expectations in their conservative community. © UNFPA
  • 15 September 2015

Today marks the start of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, which will see the adoption of a new set of global goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – that aim to transform the world over the next 15 years. Goal 5 calls for empowering all women and girls. 

MOKOLO, Cameroon – “Football is not only for men,” said Monique, 18, the captain of her football team, during a recent UNFPA-supported girls' football tournament.

She and her teammates are trailblazers in their district, Mokolo, in Cameroon’s conservative Far North Region. There, girls typically lead sheltered lives, rarely venturing beyond the home and classroom.

Football helps the girls develop social and leadership skills, and it helps connect them to essential health services. © UNFPA

The Far North Region has the country’s second highest child marriage rate, according to the latest general census, and gender-based violence remains a major concern. Both are reflective of the poor status of women and girls.

“Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, remains a serious risk for young women and girls, with devastating effects on their prospects for productive learning, self-confidence and meaningful employment,” noted Angelique Dikoume, a UNFPA programme specialist in Cameroon.

But through the simple act of playing football, Monique and her friends are flouting convention, challenging gender norms and developing valuable skills.

Women champions open door for girls

Their enthusiasm mirrors a growing interest in women’s football taking place throughout the country.

The sport has long been dominated by men. “Our society has long believed that football was a boy thing. This kind of gender stereotypes can be restrictive and harmful, especially to girls because it discourages them from expressing who they really are, which can prevent them from realizing their full potential,” Ms. Dikoume said.

But this year, Cameroon’s women’s team captured the nation's attention with a groundbreaking performance at the Women’s World Cup. Inspired, girls around Cameroon have taken to the game.

Women and girls queue to receive health services at a tent set up beside the UNFPA-supported girls' football tournament. © UNFPA

Providing care to players, spectators

Football has proven to be much more than a recreation. It help girls to socialize, develop leadership skills and build self-esteem. It is also an opportunity to connect them – and other community members – with essential health services.

The UNFPA-supported football tournament in the Far North Region was an opportunity to deliver reproductive health information and care to women, girls and families.

Beside the football pitch, UNFPA erected a tent where district health personnel provided health information, family planning counselling, and antenatal care to those in attendance.

In total, some 670 people received free, voluntary family planning services, and 493 antenatal consultations took place. And more than 200 pregnant women took advantage of free, voluntary HIV testing and counselling.

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