Girls’ Leadership Forum: On Sports
Katy Fofana, Senegal
Katy is 15 and from the Cape Verde Islands. She is currently living in Senegal, but has spent much of her life moving back and forth between Senegal and South Africa.
Being a girl has definitely impacted my life. Growing up in a Muslim country like Senegal, where girls are seen more as property than as human beings, was really hard. I mean, my parents have raised me to be opinionated and to believe I’m every boy’s/man’s equal. But I was faced with another reality anytime I left my house. I remember when I was a kid, being escorted back home every time I wanted to go out and play with the neighbourhood boys, because football is not meant for girls, and they were telling me with the best intentions to just “go back home and help in the kitchen.” This has affected me a lot; at some point I even really believed I was inferior to boys. But then I moved to South Africa, and the change of mentality really shocked me. The other kids in my gated community would get together around snack time and just play together. I was really scared and quite frankly shocked at first, because I was taught this was unacceptable, but I eventually got used to it, and these kids became like siblings to me. I believe if I were a boy, I wouldn’t have experienced such inequality and would have been a much more confident child.
Molly Sanderson, United States
Molly lives in Avon, Connecticut. She is 17.
Growing up in America, I always considered myself privileged and equal to men. As I have grown up, however, I have realized that this perfect perception of the world is not a reality. Ever since I can remember, I have been dragged to my brother’s sporting events, where I learned the games of baseball and hockey. My dad is a huge baseball fan, so I grew up around the sport and soon wanted to play myself. At the age of about seven, I saw a sign around town about upcoming baseball tryouts and asked my dad to sign me up. I was unaware that baseball was generally a male-dominated activity; all I knew was it looked like fun, and I wanted to join in. My dad turned me on to softball, which is basically just the girl form of baseball. I loved softball and eventually joined a travel team and attended tournaments every weekend. The fact that I couldn’t play baseball always bothered me, though. Why were only boys allowed? Girls could hit, run, catch and throw just as well, yet we were constantly put down by sayings such as, “You throw like a girl.” I distinctly remember having an argument with a boy after he claimed that softball was so much easier than baseball, and that’s why girls played it. His argument was about the name, and about how the game was titled after how soft the ball was. I remember laughing at him, having recently broken my nose after the ball had taken a bad hop. He also claimed that baseball was better, as there was a professional league for it, and there was no softball competition post-college. I realized that this is an even greater injustice, as women are not allowed to compete in the MLB, NFL, NHL and other professional sports leagues. As I am almost 18, I still wonder why girls are not allowed to play baseball, and why we must separate genders while playing the same sports. After all, it is not that much to ask for, in a country that is supposed to have the greatest number of rights and freedoms.
Alice Chang, United States
Alice is a first-generation American. Her older sister and parents were all born in Korea. She is 15 and attends high school in New York City.
I’ve always remembered being told what I can and can’t do because I’m a girl. Gender stereotypes, such as how girls should be timid or domestic, restricted me from exploring different fields and broadening my horizons. My teachers told me I shouldn’t play sports because that was too aggressive for a girl, and I remember my friends telling me I couldn’t play the most recent Pokemon game because that was “for boys only.” Had I realized earlier that gender stereotypes shouldn’t define my capabilities, I think I would be equipped with a wider skill set that could’ve helped my confidence and sportsmanship.
Katie Mulindwa, Uganda
At 16, Katie lives and attends secondary school in Kampala, Uganda. Her mother is a lawyer and her father is an accountant.
Being a girl– well, I can’t say this has hindered all my opportunities in life, but there are moments where it has. I grew up competing with “the guys” when it came to sports and academics. I was always trying to prove something. I can even say that it has motivated me to choose my career aspirations as an engineer – a male-dominated field. Basically, what I am trying to put across is that for a girl to be even considered in my society, you have to be one of the guys and do what they do to be accepted or to prove yourself. My common experience is when attempting to play a sport, and the guys look at each other in a bit of disapproval but accept it anyway. Why? Because they think we can’t handle it? My advice for all girls is to do what they love, whether it is tagged as “‘manly” or “male.”
Lalla Maiga, Mali
Lalla, originally from Mali, was born in Canada but currently lives in Ghana. She is 17.
I think since I was young, I’ve been around people who have always marginalized the female gender in any type of situation. When we were playing football, the boys would always pick each other, because we girls were seen to be “weaker.” “Stop acting like a girl” seemed to be an insult, as though my gender was so inferior it was degrading for a boy to act as such. I thought these thought processes were only because I was younger, and that maturity played a key role, but as I got older and developed, it seemed to only get worse. The fact that I bled from my vagina monthly and had intense cramps only made me appear “weaker.” Why is it that women, who are the building blocks of society, are only seen to be the sand component in cement?
One of the most disturbing experiences I had that only deepened my fear of how women are portrayed took place one day in school, when a group of friends and I were discussing American politics and Hillary Clinton came up. One of the boys said she wouldn’t be president because once a month she would cause havoc in office and would make rash decisions. I proceeded to ask him why is that you think periods are a weakness, and how can you attribute someone’s weakness to them. It was a constant back-and-forth, with him saying that he doesn’t think females should be in higher positions because males are stronger and are more confident. That was the tipping point for me, because how can we as humans think that one gender is better than another, and superior?
I live in Ghana, in West Africa, but I am from Mali, a predominantly Muslim country with a high percentage of poverty. Sexism is a constant recurrence in my part of the world. Some girls get married as young as 12 and, by 17, can have about four children. Poverty plays a key role because these girls have no access to education, so their families sell them off in order to have a compensation, which only benefits the family and leaves a grave imprint on the girls’ future. In Mali, some girls are even subjected to female genital mutilation, which again only shows the deep gender equality issues.