Week 274 (12 - 18 January 2019)
Participating in sport is but a distant dream for many young Muslim women. Women in sport doesn’t align with cultural values and gender stereotypes, and is seen as a distraction to education by some in Muslim communities. However, a group of Muslim girls from a state college in Bradford, England have made significant steps in breaking these traditional cultural norms.
Three years ago, an all-Muslim girl’s cricket team was set up when an Ofsted education report found that Carlton Bolling College was not adequately protecting its pupils from the threat of extremism and sports participation amongst girls was alarmingly low.
When PE teacher Zaheer Jaffary asked if anyone wanted to join, he was positively surprised when a group of 12 Muslim girls jumped at the chance to sign up. The girls had always wanted to give sport a go: they had just never been given the opportunity or support to do so.
However, the girls still faced a few challenges before they could pick up a bat, not least from their parents.
15-year-old team member Goreja explained her difficulties:
“When we first started it was really difficult because there wasn’t even a maybe about it when we went home and told our parents we wanted to play. It was a clear no. I remember when I went home and told my mum, she didn’t even hear me; she just said that I needed to concentrate on my education.”
Head teacher Adrian Kneeshaw echoed Goreja’s thoughts:
“We’ve had situations where parents don’t want the girls to take part in sport at all because they say it’s not what girls should do. There are all those cultural barriers and we’re still facing them now.”
Nonetheless the girls persisted and, in doing so, have undoubtedly played a key role in breaking down social and cultural stereotypes.
Already, they are three-time county champions, North of England champions and national runners-up, and were nominated for the Community Award as part of the 30th Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards in 2017. To top it off, the girls had the opportunity to train and play at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the home of English cricket.
Coach Jaffary is so proud of what the team has achieved on and off the field:
“We walk in to competitions and you can hear a pin drop. They’re shocked that these girls have come and they’re wearing headscarves to play. But the way they play cricket is beautiful.”
Cricket has also helped to change the view of the parents. They are very proud of the team’s successes and Goreja’s father, for example, drives her to training and attends all her matches. A watershed moment for the team came last summer when most of the parents attended a training session ahead of the national trials, bringing along picnics and family members to sit and watch as they prepared for their greatest challenge yet. On the day, they missed the top spot by a hair’s breadth, losing out by two runs in the final at Lord’s, but the result was of little importance.
Another team member perfectly summed up what the girls had achieved by participating:
“What we went through to be here today has been so difficult, we’ve broken barriers as a team and we need to get to the stage where individual Asian girls can play sport without gender stereotyping. Girls are not supposed to stay in the kitchen, cook, clean and make sure their husbands are fed. We have lives, we want more to life than that. We think we have proved that.”
The Carlton Bolling College girl’s cricket team is JTA Communicator of the Week for acting as a source of inspiration for Muslim women throughout the country, and for proving that no one should be confined by their gender or cultural background; sport should be for everyone.
Photo: Carlton Bolling College website