When 16-year-old footballer Arpana, from Nawada, India, talks about the challenges of being excluded because of her gender, she’s referencing a reality for millions of Indian girls. “We did not think that girls could play football, but with this opportunity now we know that girls can play, just like boys.”
It’s a state of affairs rooted in both cultural attitudes and unequal access to education.
In places like Faridkot, Faridabad and other communities where World Vision works, girls are prevented from pursuing higher education because their parents see little benefit to it. That kind of thinking leads to literacy rates among women in Faridkot as low as 34 per cent.
But without literacy and education it’s difficult, if not impossible, for girls and women to effectively advocate for their rights and improve their circumstances. World Vision’s work to elevate the status of girls and women in India takes many forms, including:
- building gender-safe latrines in schools to encourage attendance;
- organizing self-help children’s groups to protect girls from discriminatory practices; and
- supporting girls’ soccer programs to help develop self-esteem and promote gender equality.
The groundbreaking World Vision-run soccer camps have seen girls go from not even being allowed to play outdoor games, to darting across the pitch.
“Now, as girls, we get permission to go and play together—and the discrimination between boys and girls has reduced,” says Arpana. “We feel really excited. We’re showing that what boys can do; girls can do too.”
Arpana adds that even parents, initially skeptical because of societal norms and fears about safety, have come around.
Now, when Arpana and her teammates are asked how playing soccer makes them feel, they confidently yell out in unison, “Equal!” The Beautiful Game has delivered a meaningful transformation and brighter future for these enthusiastic young women.