Monday, December 9, 2013

Women's Football in Pakistan Creates Path for Self-Discovery

By: Morgan Sigrist
Produced & edited by: Tim Tripp

Women in Pakistan have been making strides in area of education and individualism, but perhaps one of the most unmentioned areas is the topic of women in sports.
Women of all ages are taking to fields and courts as badminton and table tennis are being left behind for previously thought to be “men’s only sports” of football, cricket and basketball; but problems due to lack of funding, physical education and support hinder the full potential of women’s athletics in Pakistan.
Sana Mahmud is the captain of the women’s football team for Pakistan, and is also an avid basketball player. Since 2007, Mahmud and her professional soccer team have won four gold medals within their country and traveled twice internationally to play football.

Sana Mahmud (bottom-center) Photo via UrduWire

“The culture is changing, but it’s a slow change,” said Mahmud. She explains, Pakistan is not a “fitness culture” and lacks a demographic for physical education. 
As a young girl in primary school, Mahmud found it difficult to follow her passion of football and basketball due to lack of funds, support from her school and facilities available for women.
It was difficult for her to find enough girls to join her in playing sports because men dominated the courts and fields, leaving it unavailable for women to join in. Mahmud would not let lack of funding or other resources to stop her, as she pleaded with her school principal to help form a girls’ basketball team. 
“There’s a lot of politics and lack of funding,” said Mahmud. It was through her hard work and perseverance that Mahmud formed a team without the knowledge of her principal.
Physical education has been far behind that of other countries such as neighboring India or the United States. For women, athletics are even more difficult because modesty and separation from men are part of the culture in Pakistan.
As a woman in Pakistan, activities such going for a run or going to hang out with your friends to shoot hoops aren’t possible unless you find a women’s only park. These restrictions only pushed Mahmud to work harder and pursue her dreams of being on the field.

Pakistan's Young Rising Stars Women Football Club. Photo via PakistanToday

Ayeza Waheed grew up playing various sports such as football, basketball, badminton and swimming, but it was not until she moved to Islamabad that she honed in her love and skill of football. While the city offered better opportunities for football, there is still a lack of support.
The society does not really object to it but it is not given the same importance as a guy playing a sport on the same level as me (national level),” said Waheed. She has been part of the Young Rising Stars football program, and was selected to play for the Pakistan Football Federation. It has only been within the past nine years that women have been even part of the international specter in the athletic world according to Sadia Sheikh.
Sheikh is Congress and Executive member Pakistan Football federation, Chairperson Sindh Women Football Committee and Founder Diya Women Football Club located in Karachi the first Women Football Club established in Pakistan in the year 2004. She has been described as being “one of the pioneers” for women’s football in Pakistan. 
Mahmud is passionate about sports and the importance of sports education in the lives of both boys and girls, and attributes much of her success and joy to sports. With professional sports for women popping up in communities throughout Pakistan, women of all social, cultural and economic backgrounds can share in healthy experiences as a community. The women who participate in professional sports have greater sacrifices to face due to lack of support financially and academically.
When Mahmud’s team was invited by the US Embassy to play in the United States, the dean of her college refused to approve her leave, and along with some of her professors, threatened to freeze her classes if she left. “It wasn’t until people began doing articles about me after I returned that I got support from them,” said Mahmud.
Mahmud, like many Pakistani youth, doesn’t mind bending the rules to follow her dreams; even if it means tearing down the walls of social constructs. For Mahmud sports are a release or a “medicine” that allows her to explore her personal limits and abilities, while forming bonds and friendships with other women like herself.
As a Masters student in International Development, Mahmud wants to share the social and economic importance athletics for boys and girls. People are not educated on the importance of physical education because greater importance is placed on academics, so school sports and recreation centers are difficult to come by.
The importance of sports in these young women’s lives makes these challenges worth the fight. Mahmud explains how football has “changed their lives,” and created a way for women to become more empowered. For many of these women, there is little opportunity for them to do activities they enjoy, much less an opportunity to find their potential. “If women can do sports, they can find themselves,” said Mahmud. 

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