afrol News / Gender Links, 1 June - When the world's attention focuses on Africa for World Cup 2010, women's football may not be at the centre of attention. Yet for a group of footballers in Tanzania, the love of the game is what really matters.
Seeing a woman in a football pitch, kicking the ball the way men do, still looks strange to many Africans. Despite this attitude, the Tanzanian Women Football Association (TWFA), officially registered in May 2006, is scaling unthought-of of heights, and the women's national team, the Twiga Stars, is doing well.
Twiga Stars team captain, 22-year old Rose Chipa, finds it a pity that just a few women turn up at the stadium to cheer on their fellow women when there is a match. Many of their fans, she notes with some concern, are men. Although some men poke fun on their looks and their style of playing soccer, many can be heard exclaiming, "Wow, look at that girl; she plays well like a man!"
The idea of a woman in a football field brings to mind images of sweat, short toenails, a lot of exercise, and the changing of body shape into a masculine one. However, passion will always overcome cultural and traditional barriers. Ms Chipa admits that many people think she doesn't look feminine, but that doesn't disturb her at all.
Ms Chipa reveals that when her mother noticed that she loved football from an early age, she forbade her to play, saying that it was a boy's sport. Yet, she would always play when her mum wasn't around.
She explains: "I can still remember how people would be shocked on hearing that there was a girl in a boys' team. It was so hard to recognise me amongst them because I looked just like a boy. With a 'male' hair cut and a rather flat chest, some people still confuse me for a boy to date."
Ms Chipa says that discouraging a child from their passion is a mistake that parents should never make. It is better to help a child grow to love their passion than to discourage them. Children will always do it behind your back.
Ms Chipa continues, "I started playing when I was very young. Being the only girl in my family and the last born, I would always play with my two elder brothers." She narrates further, "When I was in Form 3 at Loleza Girls Secondary School in Mbeya, I was elected prefect for sports and entertainment. But the school didn't have a football team for girls. So I would occasionally organise the girls for a match."
When Ms Chipa joined Nuru Secondary School, Dodoma, in 2001, she was already a member of Vijana Sports Club. In 2004, she was selected to join the national team, Twiga Stars.
Ms Chipa adds that parents should not worry that if their daughters played football, they might fail in their presumed 'feminine social roles.' Although she stopped wearing skirts three years ago, making her mum think that her daughter will not marry, Ms Chipa says that her family should actually expect grandkids. She is in a very good relationship with a man who is also into sports - he plays volleyball.
According to Twiga Stars Manager Elizabeth Kalinga, women playing football these days is no big deal. She notes that it has taken long for women to reach the stage of having their own national team, and she is happy with the success they have attained to date.
"I personally started as a referee in Zambia in 1980. Five years later, I came to Tanzania and I have seen many women's clubs formed - there are 50 of them now," says Ms Kalinga.
She explains that a lot of women need to have more football awareness and understand that the game is unisexual. At the same time, she adds, the Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) and other stakeholders must play a greater role to sensitise society on this regard.
Rose Chipa adds that she doesn't like the notion held by many people that playing soccer is only a preserve of the semi-illiterate. Actually, she has plans to pursue studies on sports. She has attended various courses on coaching and refereeing.
Ms Chipa says that the main challenge left is for the women teams to do better in their matches, so as to make those of the fair sex who don't care for soccer to change their attitude and appreciate their sweat, short toe nails and 'masculine' bodies.
By Esther Mngodo Ms Mngodo is a Tanzania-based writer.
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