As a central focus of the football for good movement, gender equality has been addressed at length throughout Festival 16. Here, Vanessa Thiele recounts her experience of an awkward yet ultimately empowering session on the topic:


It was crazy, there was a really cool football for good workshop about Gender Equality. Pavithra from Dream a Dream (India) ran it. In the beginning I thought it would be really simple and people wouldn’t really say much or it wouldn’t get to the topic of gender equality. Pavithra split the first group into boys and girls, and then the girls needed to think about what they thought about the word 'women' meant and what they associate with it and what they would like to tell the boys what they could never say.


The boys were waiting, then we all sat down in a circle, so there was an inner circle of girls and an outer circle of boys. I was translating between the different language speakers. The boys were told to just listen and not make comments. The first group was really dynamic, there were Colombians, Germans, Indians… there was almost no need to give so much input. It was just unlucky because when the boys were supposed to talk, time was already up because we started really late.


Then there was a second group which amazed me more than the first one because when they came and sat down, everyone was so shy and nobody said. Again, we sat down with the girls in the inner circle and the boys in the outer circle. The second workshop was made up of people from Uruguay, Kenya (the Muslim part in the North) and Indians. The delegation leader from Uruguay began by explaining “in my community, it’s really macho and girls don’t have the same access to job opportunities or high ranking positions as boys”.


Pavithra told us that in the community she comes from, women have to stay at home all their lives and they only change homes once when they get married. “I had to stay home, where my father was ruling the house, then I got married and moved to another house with my husband three years ago…I really don’t like this, I’m an independent woman and I really don’t want to stick to this culture and its patterns. I would love for my husband to clean my clothes or clean the dishes at home for once but I have to do it, and so I’m fighting for my rights everyday”.


Then there was this very long silence and I was really impressed that Pavithra let it be. Everybody reflected on it and let it sink in. Finally a really shy girl from North Kenya whispered something to her friend, and a young leader was able to translate what she said into English, “in my region everyone is Muslim, and because of the culture girls are not meant to play football and that’s really not good for us because we love playing football,  but it is really badly seen and we are supposed to wear really long dresses or even dresses where you can only see the eyes. We just want to play football and people don’t like that”. It was so nice to see her open up because everybody seemed so shy.


The Uruguayan girls didn’t say anything, but you could see that they were really shocked. Then we swapped and the boys came to the inner circle and the girls went to the outer circle, and the boys were very dynamic. There was a young leader from HODI and he talked about the role of women in his community and said “women are not the same in our community and it makes me really sad and I see that women can only clean houses and if they find employment, it’s always cleaning or something similar”. He said his organisation is trying to employ women – giving priority to women for job opportunities because they are looking for strong women. That is also difficult because outsiders don’t like it so there is a lot of fighting.


There was also a Uruguayan boy who I thought was really bored and just hanging around – it seemed he was just not interested in the conversation. But all of sudden he piped up, “I’d like to say something – in my community too men and women are not equal because they don’t have the same opportunities they cannot have the same jobs. I think everyone is equal and we are all the same and we should all love each other”. The Uruguayan young leader continued by explaining that “even though it seems like there are all equal, there is still that unconscious restriction for women –for example, you can always dress how you want, but then there will always be the good women and the women you are dressed like”. When time was up and the session was over, the Uruguayans and the Indians stayed and talked to each other so I was translating for them.


They all hugged each other and agreed to fight for gender equality together – it was really inspiring.