For some time now Rwandan women have been involved in several sports and probably members of public have been wondering if African women can excel in sports since there are very few who can show their enthusiasm in sports.It is only confidence that still lacks among women but potential sports women always go home with trophies.
If one went to the national stadium and saw the numbers of women doing aerobics and several others who have joined other sports across the country, the myths of women not being able to excel in sports would be cleared.
In Rwanda, women have joined Volleyball, Basketball and football teams in big number; girls have also picked interest of joining various sports while middle aged women have joined efforts in organizing these kinds of sports.
Rwanda, recently hosted an international conference on Gender Equity in Sport for Social Change organized by a football lover Felicite Rwemalika, also the in charge of women development in the national soccer governing body, FERWAFA.
Hosted by Association of Kigali Women Footballers (AKWOF), an association of women football, the international conference was held at the La Pallisse Hotel Nyandungu.
The conference attracted women sports association leaders from Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and the Netherlands. It was sponsored by NIKE, SNV and GLOBAL GIVING with special interest in promoting women sports.
Rwanda’s women football legend Felicite Rwemalika, president of Association of Kigali Women Footballers (AKWOF) hailed the international organizations, which support women football.
While advocating for women football in the country, Rwemalika told the participants in the conference that before forming AKWOF, it was very difficult for people to understand that women can play foot ball.
“We had many challenges, when starting this association but now there are testimonies,” Rwemalika said .
She said the initiative was formerly supported by President Paul Kagame and while Kigali City Council supported ideally, morally and advocacy.
The Mayor of Kigali Dr Aisa Kirabo Kakira who presided over the conference, asked the participants to make a plan for women in leadership to be involved in sports for social change.
She highlighted the importance of sports for health adding that it would be useless to have beautiful roads or cities with no health people.
The report also highlights cultural and religious barriers to women’s participation in sport but some strong women still persist to enjoy the talent of sports in human kind.
To some level, a given sport faces more challenges it would not have faced due to the African Patriarchal tendencies always want to control the administration.
The idea of women football in Rwandaa in was initiated my Rwimarika 1997; four women in Kigali come together and formed a Kigali based women football association AKWOF which formed the first women football team.
In 1999 recruitment of other women football teams started from all other provinces in Rwanda. The idea behind advocating for women football or philosophy in efforts to have the same people benefit from government programs e.g. physical health and Unity and reconciliation.
“In sports everything is done collectively with team work spirit, in football is played passing the ball to any of your teammate regardless of whether you share ethnicity or not,” Rwemalika said in an interview.
After a long struggle, women football has reached a level of organizing a national league which idea was recently accepted by FERWAFA.
Jean de Dieu NZEYIMANA of Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) says the physiology of human beings is made in a way that girl’s muscles are naturally weaker compared to that of boys.
Nzeyimana says that physical exercises or sports can make girls’ muscles strong but regretted that the African culture stops women from practice sports. He said women do not generally practice physical education in primary and secondary schools.
“Sport is an element that fosters unity and reconciliation, Sport is on the syllabus NURC’s solidarity camp (Ingando), when they run together they feel that kind of togetherness and oneness, Sports brings people together and promotes social cohesion, and a spirit of fraternity,” Geoffrey Mwine of National Unity and Reconciliation.
According to Bethy Kgomotlokoa Lallie from South Africa, Sports is a good platform to discuss national issues like ways of preventing epidemics in any given country more especially African countries.
Kgomotlokoa said that in South Africa, sports events are organized and relevant authorities take the advantage to talk about HIV/Aids as one of the threatening pandemic in South Africa.
Discussions about the killer disease and other issues of concern are also usually done on sports grounds in Rwanda where women gather for sports other than men.
During the Gender equity in sports for social change conference also organized by AKWOF early this year, the Vice President of the Uganda Football Federation, said Uganda had a turmoil during the post IDI Amin era which was more like the Rwanda Genocide, but sports was a key to heal the nation where women played a big role.
She told the participants that the current government policy in Uganda highly advocates for women’s emancipation. She gave an example that in Africa, it is Uganda that first appointed a women vice president who created policy that favoured women.
Women excel in sports much as men do especially the developed countries where women have excelled in tennis, basketball and even boxing among other sports.
The Women football team was recently integrated in the soccer federation (FERWAFA); which has apparently encouraged the formation of many women football associations in provinces.