We Are Zanzibar And We ASK For Choice
May 7th 2015. Robin Perrie, a reporter with The Sun – the UK’s biggest selling newspaper – volunteered as a coach for our recent trip to Zanzibar. Here is his blog.
The Adhan – the Islamic call to prayer – floated across the Amaan stadium in Stone Town as each morning session of CAC’s programme in Zanzibar came to an end. It was a fitting backdrop to one of the challenges that came up again and again throughout the five days of training, the final year of a three-year programme on the Indian Ocean island, just off the coast of Tanzania.
How do women achieve equal rights when they aren’t even allowed to play football?
More than 99% of the population is Muslim and powerful, hard-line clerics say it is forbidden for women to play the game. Those that do face pressure to wear the hijab and not wear shorts. A small number refuse to be cowed and gather each night to play on dirt pitches alongside men and dressed the same as the men. But the demands of Islam are never far away – if they walk home after the game without changing into more modest clothing they run the risk of being confronted by the widespread belief that women in sports gear away from a soccer field must be asking for sex.
And it’s the man’s right to take it.
A handful of women attended the CAC programme at the national stadium, and were warmly welcomed by the male coaches. The married ones did wear the hijab and never played in shorts, but they were keen to stress that their husbands were actually among the more forward-thinking members of the community for even allowing them to attend. Running alongside these issues was the other vital debate over child rights.
One in 10 boys – and one in 20 girls – is sexually abused on the island.
It’s not uncommon for teachers to strike children with a stick and violence in the home – both verbal and physical – is rife. CAC founder Nick Gates’ mother Judith – “Mamma” to the local coaches – gave a well-received talk about the rights of children and many of the games we played backed up the message. The local coaches were painfully honest in the challenges facing the island’s 1m population, admitting how prevalent child abuse is. Their passion for change was evident in their work on the field and in their discussions off the field. They were an outstanding group of leaders and with the support of the government, they will begin the process of change.
The week was considered an unqualified success by all and was best summed up by one of the local coaches, who said on the last day: “Now I know that women run equal to men, kick equal to men, play football equal to men. Women are just the same. We are equal.