From Passion to Impact
Published on March 1, 2021 by Malick Mbengue
Admin

Why Girls Kick? This project is a dream born out of two passions: Soccer and education. And, as you can imagine, my personal and professional life revolves around these two passions: I play, coach and breath the game of soccer; and I’ve been a classroom teacher for the past 15 years. Yet, the path I took to get here is nothing but ordinary; and you might be wondering why a man would want to start a nonprofit devoted to the cause of empowering young girls.

For starters, I grew up in a house full of boys (enough to field a soccer team and have subs) but I was raised by women (older sisters, mothers and grand-mother). While they stayed home and made sure we were fed, schooled, and taken care of, we got to stay in school and play. They are the main reason why a young village boy like me made a better life for himself and became a man who is now able to realize his dream.

Bridging the Gap

I used to feel bad for not being able to afford a proper soccer ball, not having cleats to play on dirt fields, or not having school supplies to be more successful in school. Then the older I got, the more aware I became of my own privilege compared to my sisters and all the young girls who were not allowed to participate in sports, or were forced to drop out of school before they can reap the benefits of a formal education.

My desire to do something about the access gap in sports and education only grew bigger when I came to the US and became a teacher and girls’ soccer coach. I’ve since been surrounded by girls and young women who kick butt in the classroom and on the soccer fields, empowered by the strong belief that girls can do anything, be anything, and be good at everything. I now want to play my part (however small it is) in helping African girls cultivate that same belief and empower them to be whatever they want to be.

Educating for Social Change

Education is undeniably a force for change that can help girls and women overcome social prejudices, take control of their own lives and assume a status and identity for themselves, beyond their predetermined roles. Indeed, to fully and effectively play their role in the development and social progress of Africa, young girls should absolutely benefit from equal opportunity in education. Today's young girl will be the global citizen of tomorrow. All research points to the direct link between girls' primary education and significant improvement in socio-economic indicators of development, such as infant and child mortality, healthy lifestyles and family education.

The factors which are obstacles to the education of young girls are at the same time educational, socio-cultural and economic. Girls have a number of functions that they will not be able to perform if they leave home at regular hours to go to school (housework, caring for younger children). Economically, girls are reduced to the role of family helper, despite their ability to perform the same tasks or jobs as boys. It’s at the heart of Girls Kick’s mission to reinforce the values of educating girls and to provide them with the tools to stay in school and be successful students. We strongly believe that investing in girls is indirectly investing in society, as educated girls will have a significant impact on their families, and of course their societies at large.

Soccer and the Power of Sports

“A girl isn’t cut out for playing soccer, it’s a boy’s sport. A girl has to clean the house, cook and so on. This is what we were told. Fortunately, thanks to the struggle for human rights and gender equality, women today have the same opportunities as men, although dreams never come true without obstacles.” Maimouna, 16

In Senegal, and Africa in general, gender discrimination in sports remain deeply entrenched and tolerated. Soccer still remains a predominantly male dominated sport. Not long ago, being a woman and playing soccer was unheard of. Today, change makers across the continent are working to meet the challenge of empowering more young girls to try and succeed in the sport. Thanks to globalization and social media, women's football is becoming commonplace. It is seen as a symbol of the emancipation of women, but there are still many challenges for those who break the taboos of a conservative society. Narrow mentalities and conservatism continue to be obstacles to the idea of a sportswoman. Time has come to help break down the barriers of fear, customs and traditions. When communities see girls achieve magnificently in sport, they often tend to recognize their potential to achieve in other domains.

Girls Kick is not a groundbreaking or radical idea, it is us playing our part in making the world better for all, including those who have been told that they don’t have a chance. Please join me in this important life mission.