Diakonia - People change the world
Sanjida's parents didn't want her to play football. But now they are proud of her successes and say that she's like a son and a daughter at the same time.

Breaks gender boundaries by playing football

“When I started to play football, it was against my father’s will. He thought girls were not supposed to play football. But that changed when my team won a tournament: ‘Okay, girls can play football if they become champions’, he said.”

Sanjida Akter is 16 years old and by playing football she’s challenging gender norms in Bangladesh. People in Bangladesh generally think football is for boys, but Diakonia’s partner organization MKP is working hard to break the gender boundaries in the northwest of Bangladesh where Sanjida lives.

“Now people are starting to accept that we play”, she says.

Sanjida has been playing football for two years now, and at the beginning people’s attitudes were negative, especially among the older generation.  

“They thought football should only be played by boys”, she remembers.

Boys and girl live separate lives

Boys and girls are often separated at school. At Sanjida’s school boys and girls are studying together, but they attend the morning assembly in separate rows and they sit separately in the class rooms.  

And it was at school she first came in contact with Diakonia’s partner organization, MKP. They visit schools regularly to give orientation on issues like gender equality and the negative impacts of child marriage and dowry. In order to try to change gender stereotypes, the organization introduced the idea of girls playing football and to arrange a tournament where schools could challenge each other. They showed examples of girls playing football at a national level and told the girls they would be pioneers in the region, and that some of them might get the chance to play national level football. The girls were inspired and eager to play, even though some hesitated out of fear of parents’ and teachers’ reactions. Some of the girls said it could be difficult to play in the playground in front of the boys. 

The father was against her playing

But Sanjida was very happy when she was selected to the girls’ football team. Although her father didn’t like the idea at all.

“My father was strongly against it. He said girls should not play football. But I decided to continue anyway. When my team became champions in the tournament organized by MKP, my father changed a little and said: Okay, girls can play football if they become champions. So I feel that if I can play well then I will get appreciation from my parents.”

After forming the football team MKP regularly monitored the team practice, provided jerseys and a small amount of money to the students.   

“But most important of all, they gave us moral support. Within a short period of time our team became very active and confident.”

The girls are playing barefoot

Now the girls can access the playground just as much as the boys. But unlike the boys – the girls haven’t received any shoes or three-quarter trousers.

“It would be easier for us to practice, if we got the equipment. We’ve been champions twice. It proves that we can also bring pride and glory to our school”, says Sanjida.

Story told to Mazharul Islam, Programme Officer in Bangladesh