Sporting their way to financial empowerment

March 20, 2013 by

Financial freedom brings empowerment, a slogan that riveted the streets of Dhaka as an energized group of adolescent girls rallied with colourful banners and posters advocating social awareness messages. The component of BRAC’s education programme that deals with adolescent girls highly stresses economic independence as it gives them the power to fight against the discriminations they face in the society.

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Preventing violence against women and economic independence are two major issues the clubs for adolescent girls run by BRAC Adolescent Development Programme (ADP) strongly advocates. Regarding these two issues the programme motivates not only the club members but their parents, village elders and community leaders also.

This year the ADP had planned to promote the issues through organising a cricket and football tournament for the members of the adolescent girls’ clubs. The tournament was organised marking the International Women’s Day and was thought to be a good occasion to reach the awareness messages to a mass audience.

At the tournament the focus of the campaign on economic independence was its importance and saving money. The tournament was held near one of the biggest slums of the Dhaka city so that the messages could reach to the audience continuously emerging from the shanties and places nearby. The girls also participated in a big rally, staged a play and performed a cultural show, spreading the campaign messages.

Forming the teams
Senior programme manager of BRAC Education Programme Rashida Parveen says, ‘We have a very positive response about our girls’ participation in sports. They come from across Bangladesh, even from the conservative areas of Cox’s Bazar, Chandpur and Sylhet. And the response of the local people in these districts was very good. The community understands and accepts when you effectively explain things to them.’

The initiative to incorporate sports in the curriculum of the clubs of the adolescent girls began in 2007 and was formalized in 2009. The relatively longer time between the initiation of the process and formalization was needed to overcome social barriers. The entire community was involved in the process. Meetings were held with the girls’ parents and community leaders. Through discussion and understanding training grounds for the girls were set in a safe, protected environment. With support from the national sports authorities, national-level coaches were engaged to conduct for the girls a training programme with at least two weeks’ duration.

BRAC has around 9,000 ADP clubs across Bangladesh, each of which comprises 25-30 girls. Through a selection process 40 cricket teams and 37 football teams were formed with the club members. Professional coaches led the selection process that decided who will go to which team based on their natural traits and acquired skills. Eventually some of these girls have found their place in the teams playing at the national level.

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For the tournament, the first round of selection was held at the district level to be carried out in 16 districts. Players were selected from the ADP teams already formed and were put in six regional teams. Six camps were then set up in six regions for both football and cricket. Later on, the six regional teams were divided into two divisional groups of Rajshahi and Dhaka. The Rajshahi division group consisted of the teams of Rajshahi, Rangpur and Khulna districts while the Dhaka division group comprised the teams of Chittaging, Dhaka and Mymensingh districts.

The Rajshahi division group played their qualifying matches in Rajshahi while that of the other division was held in Narshingdhi. The champions and runners-up of the divisional groups came to Dhaka for the quarter final and final matches.

The Dhaka matches were attended by the staff from the national cricket federation, football federation, women’s rights groups and banks. Expressing much enthusiasm they said that players from these teams might find their path into the teams playing at the national level. They observed that such opportunities will bring them money too and inspire them to take the sports as professions.

During the ICC World Cup 2011 the ADP project also organised a cricket tournament. The ADP tournament also campaigned for the HIV-AIDS message that was the message of the World Cup tournament that year. The ADP players went to different schools to spread the message.

Positive response from parents, community
The girls are physically and mentally strong enough and prepared to fight any violence. They stand together and strongly protest at any incident of stalking of any of their team mates. Sometimes when they need to take the complaint to authorities concerned they are usually met with positive response.

‘Through sports these girls are empowering themselves and we expect that the clubs will hire them on professional basis. Once the girls begin to earn they will start saving money to make secure their future,’ says Irene Parveen, one of the coordinators of the ADP sports for development project.

Irene shared a story of a father of a player of an ADP football team. He told Irine that after the practice began his daughter skipped the third day. As her father asked her the reason for her absence she said she had terrible ache all over her body. Her father then soothed her saying that with some more practice the pain would go and so she should not skip the practice.

‘I haven’t been able to achieve anything in life. I am only a rickshaw van driver. I had always dreamed of becoming a player. I don’t have the money to support my daughter’s education to make her a doctor or engineer or even send her to a good university. I can barely afford her secondary education. But at the same time if I can help her become a good football player, then one day because of her I will be recognised in the society. People will give me importance,’ the father told Irene.

Madrasah girls come to the practice wearing borkha. They take it off during practice with their jersey underneath. After practice they go back putting on their borkha again. During tournaments their guardians, especially mothers covering themselves in borkha come to the playground and support their girls.

In the context that female coaches are rare in the country BRAC is also planning to take an initiative to train and produce 41 female professional coaches who will train the ADP teams in future.

A journey towards change
Each of the girls playing for the BRAC ADP teams comes from a disadvantaged background, but each of them pursues a powerful dream and aspiration. The faces are of any country girl but the task they do is extraordinary. With a tough will and strong effort they will surely one day make their mark on the sports history of this country and change forever not only their life but their families and society too.

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Nuri, a student of Class IX, plays for the cricket team of Khulna. She is the third among six siblings who are all studying. Inspired by their sister her younger sisters are preparing to enroll in the team. Nuri says appreciation of her classmates and teachers makes her especially happy. ‘My mom and dad are also very supportive. They want me to play well so that everyone knows me and my family,’ she says. She dreams of playing in the national team one day.

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From left, Sanu Marma, Sujata Chakma and Jisano Marma are part of the Chittagong football team. They are students of Class VIII and IX and come from Khagrachari and Rangamati. They met and became friends after they got into the team.  Jisano’s ambition is to join the police. ‘Playing good football will add to my qualification,’ she says.

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Munira and her friends from the Rangpur football team