Inside The Global Goals World Cup
Echoes of slipping shoes and blowing horns filled the Brooklyn Expo Center as the Global Goals World Cup (GGWCUP) Finals took over on September 19th. Each competing team brought its version of fierce passion and irresistibly contagious energy. Although the women played to score goals on the field, their mutual objective was for a much greater cause.
On one field, Moving the Goalposts from Africa reflected their culture in a lively pre-game display, while next to them a youth girls team from Connecticut played against women twice their age. Unifying this diversity created a unique atmosphere that flowed throughout the day’s event. By celebrating each other’s differences, each team also discovered shared similarities with the others.
Whether a player grew up in a sheltered environment in the United States, or in one of Kenya’s poorest regions, GGWCUP brought together participants by finding their commonalities, using soccer as a way to promote social change and establish basic human rights.
I grew up playing competitive soccer in the United States between age nine and 20. As I got older, the game became more competitive. My goal was always to make the “elite” team and move up to the highest achievable level of soccer. While being part of a team has taught me valuable everyday lessons, I eventually lost sight of what I was competing for and my soccer career came to an end.
At the Brooklyn Expo Center that day, I surrendered to the passion and energy - and watched my childhood sport morph into a means of global social change for the better.
A few months ago I met the co-founders of Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup), Majken Gilmartin and Rikke Rønholt Albertsen. Within a week GGWCup had completely changed my view of soccer, opening my eyes to the powerful role that my childhood sport can play in the global fight for social justice.
Sport is a universal language. Soccer, known as ‘football’ outside the US, has been described as the world’s most beautiful game. Witnessing a combination of perfect plays leading to a goal with finesse can light up a stadium and unite thousands of people in a matter of seconds. GGWCup looks beyond the perfect play, using soccer to unite women worldwide as a means to tackle larger social issues.
The official definition of universal is “relating to or done by all people or things in the world.”For short, universal means the inclusion of everyone. Unfortunately, many parts of the world still function with ancient systems of social inequality, which exclude women, or whole ethnic groups that could be viewed as an authoritative threat.
Oppressed minorities have fought for equality for hundreds of years and it seems that at the end of every victory there awaits another battle. Many times I question how to even begin working towards social justice in countries ruled by strong traditions and fear of change. After witnessing the power of soccer as an activist platform in New York, I felt hopeful. Meeting some of these incredibly brave women was truly inspiring. Whether their focus is gender equality, quality education or climate change, they all have powerful stories to tell, and the GGWCup platform is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
The Dream Team
Emma Holten, a feminist activist from Denmark, who was a victim of revenge porn at age 17. Like many women at GGWCup, she used her traumatic experience as motivation to affect change. Instead of falling to victimhood, Emma became a major voice in the debate that resulted in the Danish Parliament criminalizing revenge porn.
According to status quo, strong women are never victims, they are never in doubt, they never show signs of weakness. To counterpoise these misconceptions, Holten connects with others by showing her vulnerabilities. Instead of putting herself on a pedestal as a strong relentless woman, Holten emphasizes the importance of humanizing her cause. The more she relates to others; the more she can inspire them to turn their victimhood into strength.
Life as an activist does not entail constant glamour and victory. Most of Holten’s time is spent alone, organizing, networking and sending emails. Joining the Dream Team at GGWCup has allowed her to unite with fellow activists worldwide, and although conditions differ between developed and developing countries, Holten still finds the issues relatable.
“Being an activist is pretty lonely. You’re alone a lot of the time. You speak alone in public, and you alone are responsible for everything you say,” she said. “Talking to these girls has been so special to me because it makes me feel that there are many of us and there is so much strength to be gained in communicating with each other.”
Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan and Tshidi Likate
Adan is the founder of the Horn of Africa Initiative HODI, which uses soccer to promote peaceful resolutions in areas affected by tribal warfare. Through soccer, HODI has initiated group discussions that allow community members to share their experiences with tribal clashes and find ways to move forward without conflict.
As the first female lawyer in Marasabit, Northern Kenya, Adan faced much resistance from men with traditional mindsets. She therefore used her education to promote peace and gender equality with the HODI motto, “Shoot to Score, Not to Kill.” She looks for every opportunity to bring new ideas and voices, that are usually left unheard, to the forefront of local issues. Without these voices, the gravity of their situation would never be known and effective change would never happen. Adan feels that people who have the authority to make powerful decisions must be willing to do the work.
“When you do the kind of work that I do, it’s lonely. You are alone facing your own battles. Global Goals World Cup brings us all together,” Adan said. “Not everyone knows my battles. This [GGWCup] helps me tell my story.” -Fatuma Adan, Kenya
Like Adan, Likate has been a part of the relentless fight for women’s rights in Africa. She founded Bet She Can, a movement to empower girls in rural QwaQwa, creating a network of girls who motivate each other to reach their full potential and establish gender equality. Likate was shy when she first started her work, but now speaks in front of hundreds of people. Her entrance fee: a pack of sanitary pads. These donations are then given to high school girls in Africa who cannot afford them. Likate fought gender stereotypes and ingrained traditional views in her village, until she gained respect from her community and showed them the immense capacity women have to affect change .
“There’s nothing that excites me more than being in a room full of young women from different countries,” Likate said. “This is where we get to unite, share our stories and empower one another. This is the only time we get to unite and share the seeds of greatness among ourselves.”
Worldwide Female Fighters
Although women at GGWCup come from different nations, countries, and ideologies, many have dedicated their lives fighting for gender equality. Among the room full of activists at GGWCup, were Hajar Abulfazl from Afghanistan and Dorcas Amakobe from Kilifi, Kenya. Due to their physical distance and differing cultures, these two countries would ordinarily not be compared, however as both countries systematically suppress women’s rights the comparison felt natural to these two activists. In combating traditional norms, Abulfazl and Amakobe found alternative pathways towards realizing gender equality in their respective countries by harnessing soccer as the medium for social change.
Abulfazl, co-captain of the Sports Equality Enforcers at GGWCup, has played for the Afghan National Soccer team for ten years. Her uncle always told her that women playing sports goes against Islam, a typically patriarchal point of view in the Afghan culture. According to tradition, a woman’s purpose is to have children, cook and clean in the home. Abulfazl lives to disprove this belief.
Today she works at Child Advocacy and Women’s Rights International, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. She has used her position on the Afghan National team to convince fathers that their daughters can play soccer while honoring Islam. Girls don’t have to wear shorts or play without a hijab. One does not preclde the other, and this freedom gives women a chance to gain tremendous confidence in an otherwise oppressive society.
When Abulfazl started her soccer career she was met with cultural resistance, over time however a gradual acceptance followed. Abulfazl helped create girls soccer teams in every school and now over 3,000 girls play soccer in Afghanistan. For women like Abulfazl, soccer is not just a game but also a reflection of gender equality and female empowerment.
Amakobe may not speak Afghani but like Abulfazl, she views soccer as an opportunity to tackle prominent social issues in Kenya. She is the Creative Director of Moving The Goalposts (MTG), representing the Kilifi and Kwale County in Kenya. Her team MTG won the 2017 GGWCup in NYC. About 70 percent of the population in these counties lives below the poverty line. Women in these areas of Kenya are often trapped in a vicious cycle of inequality; early pregnancies, forced marriages and subsequent low school attendance ratess. To empower these women, Amakobe was among the leaders of MTG, using soccer as a means of challenging and changing the traditional norms used to denyt gender equality.
“What sticks in the mind of people is action. If you’re just complaining that we aren’t getting equal opportunity, nothing will happen. So we acted by giving girls the chance to go to the beach and play football,”
-Dorcas Amakobe, Kenya
Like Abulfazl, Amakobe spends much of her time educating her surrounding communities about how soccer benefits women, highlighting that traditional norms should not stop women from following their passion. Although they initially experienced much resistance, MTG now supports about 9,000 girls in Kenya. The transition rate from Primary to Secondary School is less than 20%, so education is a real focal point of their activism. Utilizing soccer, Amakobe aims to integrate education and activism into the lives of these young girls, giving them the chance to become articulate advocates for women’s rights themselves in the future.
Miykal Carrington and the Reality of Climate Change
Carrington, a player on the SDG Changemakers team, came to New York with cheerful energy and a bright smile that everyone noticed. One would never imagine the tragedy she experienced just hours before her arrival at GGWCup.
Carrington is originally from the Commonwealth of Dominica and now lives in Connecticut. She started a National political party called The People’s Party, which adopted the UN Global Goals as their platform – with a specific focus on climate change. People of the Commonwealth of Dominica live in fear of their towns flooding due to heavy rainfall.
Unfortunately, this became a reality when Hurricane Maria hit the island nation on September 18th. Although Carrington was among the first to help prepare relief funds and supplies, she had extremely limited communication with her friends and family in Dominica. All she could do during at the time was wait.
“It’s frustrating. Even though I’m helping, I feel helpless,” she said with a nervous smile. “At the end of the day, these issues are people’s lives.”
According to Carrington, powerful nations benefit from Dominica’s high supply of carbon emission in their soil. Residents are therefore the first to feel the impact of climate change, and last to benefit from their own emission supplies. The question is how many deaths does Dominica have to experience before we take action toward improving the environment? Must the world’s most powerful nations feel the true impact of climate change before action is taken.
“You pray that everyone is fine,” she said with a hopeless laugh and hopeful smile. “I shouldn’t even say pray anymore. I’m at the point where I thank praying warriors, but we need people who are ready to take action and work.”
Gathering Our Greatness
Most of us wait for change to come to us, or experience a tragedy close-up, before taking action. GGWCup seeks out those who practice activism for change on a daily basis while envisioning an improved future in their corner of the world.
While many glorify activism, it is by no means an easy task to take on. Despite careful diplomacy, culturally-respectful practices and extensive communication, activism often feels like a distant entity to many in different parts of the world. GGWCup recognizes the power of using the world’s most beloved sport as a way to unify people in an alternative way.
“It can seem super simple and almost banal but I can attest that playing soccer together makes people understand each other more than having a meeting about feminism. I know this! It does not mean that we shouldn’t take other actions, but it makes you see how people are similar to you instead of showing their differences. We need that in our fight.” -Emma Holten, Denmark
Organizations like GGWCup remind us that we can all play our part in the fight for social justice, and that we do not have to fight our battles alone. Formally, the GGWCup is a project which merges sport and activism, as a means to support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the Brooklyn Expo Center that day, I surrendered to the passion and energy - and watched my childhood sport morph into a means of global social change for the better.