Translated with Deepl
“A waste of time”, “tomboy”, “no play”. In Niger, girls are regularly pressured to stop them from playing football. For the love of the game, some of them still brave the bans.
“People criticize me but I don’t care, I do what I want with my life,” says Faouzia Sidi Ahmed, 19, a Nigerien international defender. “I want to play football and I play football. In Niger, a predominantly Muslim country, women have to brave prejudice and clichés if they want to play football. Illustration: “Women’s football is not allowed by Islam,” says Nigerien preacher Bizo Oumarou. Women “can play sports for their health” or “to have stamina to face war situations or for work”, but “they must not go out in an outfit that will bring out parts of their body, especially their legs”.
“Religion is really a hindrance,” laments national coach Ali Mamadou. “We still manage to get around a little bit and have a significant participation of these young girls. But we’re still in our infancy. “My parents didn’t forbid me to play. We can be Muslim and play,” says Faouzia, wearing shorts, her hair knotted at the back of her head and proudly wearing the number 3 bib of the national team’s green-white-red jersey.
Faouzia started playing among the boys. When she arrived at college, she was able to continue playing football thanks to her physical education teacher. “I was then recruited by AS Police (a club in Niamey) where I played for two years and now I play for AS National Guard,” she says. The girls assure her that playing football is not incompatible with their religion. “I say my five prayers every day,” says 16-year-old Aïchatou Mohamed, wearing a national team cap that combines football with her job as a seamstress.
“People shouldn’t think we are miscreants because we play football. “Most of the players are concentrated in Niamey, the capital city. Female footballers are rare in other cities and totally absent from the countryside. According to Amina Moussa, head of women’s football development at the national federation, the country has 650 licensed female players out of a total of 6,500, playing for 22 clubs. This year, the federation organised its first ever women’s championship, in which around ten teams took part.
“I fell in love with football when I was a little girl (…) when I played with the local boys. Curious people even applaud me when I dribble the boys,” explains Aichatou. However, most of them are under a lot of pressure from the people around them. “Some people tell me that playing ball is a waste of a girl’s time,” says 17-year-old Sadia Lawali Kaché. “We are not a special category of women! »
International goalkeeper Kadidja Ousmane, 19, says: “People used to call me a tomboy and say: a girl shouldn’t play ball. I didn’t listen to them. “If I get match bonuses, I give a share to my mother and she prays for me,” says Kadidja, who dreams of a professional career abroad.
Aware that women’s football is lagging behind, the Nigerien FA, supported by FIFA, NGOs and foreign chancelleries, is trying to get the lines moving through tournaments, donations of equipment and by seeking to raise awareness among parents. Faouzia, who will be taking her A-levels this year, continues to kick the ball and announces: “I say to the parents: let your children play, football makes them smart too! »