One of the best things about being a lady in Uganda is that you are the in charge of a home; as an adolescent you are trained to have a high sense of responsibility and critical decision making skills. A typical day is to wake up and prepare for school, and prepare the little ones (young brothers, sisters, cousins) as well. After school is a routine of house chores and home work.
Raising a lady in Africa also includes tackling gender biases that are seconded by the myths and misconceptions surrounding areas of sexual reproductive health. Take for instance that a girl cannot shake hands with other people during menstruation or that a girl cannot ride a bike or play soccer because it may affect her virginity.
Having spent time at three Grassroot Soccer centers over the last few weeks, my view has completely widened on how sport and gender can bring about gender equity and influence mindsets to reduce the transmission rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses as well as unintended pregnancies amongst adolescent girls and young women.
Not only does it give girls another way of spending leisure in a quality manner, soccer breaks the gender norms and stereo types that girls are a weaker species and cannot kick or throw strongly. It gives girls as much responsibility to lead teams and team work in order to achieve goal scores that make a team win. Soccer can give girls more confidence to air their views in communities that are male dominated and in spaces like soccer fields.
For a Ugandan adolescent girl where 560 adolescent girls get HIV every week, this means that she may have role models who enable her to chase her dreams. A dream in sport is an alternative to early marriage: it means that she will have someone to look up to and can gain the confidence and courage to decide and speak to her partner. She can choose when, how and for what reasons to have sex, use or not to use contraception and generally negotiate for safer sex even if she is a young person transacting sex for school fees or material gains. In this way, soccer could be helpful in reducing the recently alarming figures in teenage pregnancies… something that is not an immediately obvious connection.
For adolescents already living with HIV, soccer and sport can be a great opportunity to help with disclosure, especially if there is already rapport built with the team members and the zeal for adherence and need of treatment buddies.
I now look at soccer or any other sport differently, as more than just a game, and as a foundation for an AIDS free generation that can also work to achieve gender equality.