Sports as a Tool to Combat Gender-Based Violence that Has Become Widespread in Somalia

Hawa Feminist Coalition uses sport as a tool to combat gender-based violence that has become widespread in Somalia and also as a way of reducing a girl’s risk of experiencing GBV. As a result of this, Hawa Feminist Coalition organized a series of sport, gaming, and networking events for young women and girls, particularly for the survivors of gender-based violence from marginalized communities such as internally displaced people and refugees in Garowe, Somalia, to promote their physical and mental well-being and also to rebuild their lives and take back control of their bodies after trauma.

With support of ONSIDE Fund, Hawa Feminist Coalition started a sports project in Garowe in October 2022 that lasted until May 2023. The project hired a coach, rented a stadium and provided necessary materials to train girls for sports in Garowe, Somalia.

In this project, 115 girls, aged 5 to 15, were trained in football, the majority of whom are internally displaced people, returned refugees, or members of other marginalized communities in Garowe, Somalia. Under the guidance of a professional female coach, these 115 girls received rigorous training consisting of tactical parts, skill parts, small-sided games, and team building to give them a well-rounded understanding of the game. They have also had opportunities to explore positions, gain an awareness of their strengths, and learn a variety of game skills. The training and gaming events were held in a fun, safe, and supportive environment, considering the deeply patriarchal culture existing in Somalia, where a girl playing football is frowned upon.

This project also helped establish the first five all-girl football groups in Garowe, Somalia. The first group, Araweelo FC, which has 24 members, is named after a legendary and brave queen called Araweelo, who ruled somewhere in Somalia. The second group, Aisha FC, which has 21 members, is named after and in tribute to Aisha Ilyes Aden, a 12-year-old girl who was brutally murdered after being kidnapped, raped, and tortured in 2019 in Galkayo, Somalia. The third group is named Horseed with 19 members, and the fourth and fifth groups have 16 members each.

Hawa Feminist Coalition conducted a competition game for these girl-led sports groups with the participation of 150 young girls as onlookers. These sports events helped these girls feel empowered, get physical and emotional strength, and have the ability to exercise their rights, raise their voices, and begin to challenge the very social barriers, such as inequity, patriarchy, and rigid gender roles that perpetuate gender-based violence and other gender inequalities, that have been prevalent in Somalia. This has also increased girls’ participation in sports in Somalia, where traditionally people see sports as a man’s game.

This has been the most successful achievement for our organization and our girls, despite some challenges due to existing religious and cultural barriers in Somalia that prevent girls from playing sports. Some of the difficulties included the publication of the girls playing sports on social media platforms and bringing male audiences or players to the sports pitch. Furthermore, some of the girls who were not happy with being photographed or having their pictures shared were excluded from the pictures. The principle of ‘Do No Harm’ is key to our organization and programming, and we always protect the privacy and confidentiality of our beneficiaries.

Hawa Feminist Coalition previously organized 31 sports events throughout Somalia to challenge sexual and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, rape, and sexual abuse, that remained widespread throughout Somalia as a result of continued insecurity, weak rule of law, gender inequality, and oppressive cultural practices and norms. Hawa Feminist Coalition also supported and facilitated the establishment of the first five basketball all-girl teams in Somalia and provided them with training and equipment. They have already played 51 games despite existing religious and cultural barriers. Which all improved girls’ health, emotion, self-esteem, and a greater ownership and understanding of their bodies.