Proud to Throw Like a Girl
One of TYO’s stated goals is to empower women to be leaders in their families, neighborhoods, and communities at large. Empowerment as a concept is inherently challenging, because it requires not only the convincing of one’s own self that it is necessary to help empower others, but because it also requires those people to be convinced that they should want to empower themselves. Globally, women are a target group for empowerment initiatives, in large part due to the fact that they are under-represented in many positive societal categories, and over-represented in many negative statistical categories. According to the United Nations, women make up only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians worldwide, and only 11 women currently serve as Head of State. UNESCO reported that as of 2013, women make up two thirds of all illiterate people worldwide, translating to approximately 493 million women. These are sobering statistics, but ones that can change with a higher commitment to equity and empowerment programs.
Ensuring a higher degree of women’s leadership and empowerment for future generations means that it is essential to start with young girls. At TYO, we have many women’s initiatives, from our Women’s Entrepreneurship Program to IT & Fitness classes for women. Recently, we have also begun a soccer league for younger girls that meets two times every week, with the ultimate goal being to empower these young women to be future leaders in their day to day lives. While sport has traditionally been associated as a gender norm synonymous with males, many initiatives, including our soccer league, aim to break that stereotype.
Sport is a language, and one might say that soccer is its most common dialect. Through sport, the girls have an opportunity to learn important concepts and skills that translate over to many other aspects of life. First and foremost, is the concept of working as a team to achieve a specific goal. Our young athletes are taught the fundamentals of the sport itself, but just as much time is devoted to ensuring that they understand how their goals cannot truly be realized unless they are able to function with each other. They learn how to rely and trust their teammates, and how to encourage them if things do not go as planned. Communication is one of the most important elements to success on the pitch, and the same holds true in any endeavor in life. If there is no clear communication established between teammates, things can quickly go wrong, and trust is lost. Just as essential, is the ability to communicate in any part of life, whether between colleagues and supervisors in the workplace, or at home between family members and friends. Through the soccer program, we stress communication as one of many essential soft skills that the girls must master in order to succeed in becoming leaders in their lives.
There is an unfortunate tendency for people to instantly think of men when they hear the word “sport”. This is as true in Palestine as it anywhere else. Traditionally, women here have not been instilled with the idea that sport is something that they are capable of even participating in, much less succeeding in. Through the work within the soccer league, we are aiming to break this stigma. That work begins with strong female role models, which we are lucky to have all over the center, and even luckier to have directly in our soccer league. Two of our volunteers, Suha and Waed have served as wonderful, intelligent role models and strong Palestinian women that our girls look up to and aspire to be more like. Instilling ideas of empowerment within these girls, no matter how well intentioned, can never be the same as when those ideas come from other women. In them they see what they are capable of, and that is something truly invaluable.
Women in Palestine face an uphill battle when compared with women and men from most walks of life. For them, nothing is ever a guarantee, and as such, they are forced to work twice as hard to try and succeed in almost any aspect of life. With odds so highly stacked against them, empowerment becomes even more essential. From the start of the soccer league to this day, there has been marked improvement in the girl’s attitude towards being a part of the soccer league. They have become more confident and comfortable, and believe in their hearts that they have just as much of a right to play as a boy their age would. My hope is that by the end of my time with these wonderful girls, they come to the realization that they are capable of anything.
Mohammed, Fall 2015 Zahi Khouri Fellow