While the swimming club has hailed the move as a "recipe for integration", politicians and commentators have criticised the concept as being against Danish values.
The girl-only sessions, which also take place with windows and doors to the swimming hall blacked out, were set up in response to religious and cultural requirements put forward by parents, reports Berlingske.
The newspaper reports that 246 girls of non-Danish ethnic origin between the ages of five and 12 have begun attending swimming lessons at the hall since the sessions were introduced.
“We have gone from zero to several hundred girls in three years, and have successfully established a swimming option for a specific group, which would otherwise find swimming difficult to access because of religion,” Lars Sørensen, the director of Hovedstadens Svømmeklub (HSK), told Berlingske.
A 2011 report by the Danish Sports Association (Dansk Idrætsforbund) showed that 28 percent of ethnic Danes were members of sports clubs, compared to 18 percent of non-ethnic Danes.
Sørensen told Berlingske that encouraging young Muslim girls to take part in sport - while keeping with their own religious practices - strengthens both physical wellbeing and integration amongst the girls.
“Many of these girls come here and meet role models from their own neighbourhoods standing on the poolside in the coach’s jersey,” said Sørensen. “At the same time, they learn to swim, which gives safety, fitness and well being.”
Sørensen added that the club did not consider the introduction of segregated lessons an extraordinary measure.
“It is just a condition [for taking part], just as some people swimming in 50 metre lanes and others swimming in 25 metre lanes,” the pool trainer told Berlingske.
“We are the second biggest sporting association in the country, so we think it’s our responsibility to offer a considered range of swimming lessons,” he added.
But the City of Copenhagen's deputy mayor for culture and leisure, Carl Christian Ebbesen of the Danish People’s Party (DF), told Berlingske that creating segregated swimming sessions for Muslim girls was bad for integration and “destructive” for Danish culture.
“It is completely crazy to meet these demands. There is a desperately short supply of swimming pools, so we shouldn’t be closing them down by putting curtains in front of the windows and signs saying ‘just for girls’ just to meet the demands of religious fanatics,” Ebbesen said.
The DF politician said that Muslim girls were welcome to take part in sports clubs, but that this must be done on the same basis as everybody else.
“We must go to the parents via our integration policies and explain to them that we cannot meet their special requirements,” Ebbesen told Berlingske.
“They must send their girls to sport and other activities like everyone else. Every time we meet these demands, we are destroying the society we’ve worked so hard for,” he continued.
Rikke Lauritzen of the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), who is responsible for municipality financial support for community projects in Copenhagen, said that Ebbesen should “relax a little bit” and called the swimming initiative “super cool”.
“The most important thing for me is to get children from all backgrounds involved in clubs and associations of all kinds, so that they can be part of the democratic development process that this entails,” Lauritzen told Berlingske.
“It’s super cool, that so many children have begun swimming in Tingbjerg, because it shows that it works when we provide funds for development. I would therefore like to congratulate HSK on its success,” she continued.
Lauritzen also pointed out that single-sex swimming lessons are not an extraordinary sight.
The end of a rule that barred women from wearing a hijab while playing football has seen the numbers of young muslim women taking up the game rise. Click Here for the Video by Daniel O'Connor
Growing up in Tallaght, Fadhila Hajji loved playing football with her brothers.
Kicking a ball around the yard during her teen years was the perfect way to relax after a long day at school. Unfortunately, the headscarf or hijab she wore as a Muslim teenager meant she was unable to play matches with other girls.
“It was very upsetting to me because I couldn’t express my passion for football,” says Hajji as she prepares for her weekly training in Phoenix Park on a grey, wet morning. “It was something I really enjoyed playing, something that I could use to blow steam off. Playing with everyone was just my happy time. I was really eager to join a team but couldn’t because of my headscarf.”
In March 2014, football’s world-governing body Fifa lifted the ban on head covers during matches. This meant female Muslim players would have the option to cover their heads when playing.
When Hajji’s brother Abdul-Rahman heard about Fifa’s decision to lift the ban on headscarves, he approached his sister with the idea of creating a Muslim women’s football team in Dublin. He was already an active member of Sports Against Racism Ireland (Sari).
Along with their friend, Abdul, the three young soccer enthusiasts contacted friends around Dublin encouraging them to get involved in their “Hijabs and Hat-tricks” project. Diverse City FC kicked off training in March 2014 and, two months later, they made their debut at the Fair Play Cup on World Refugee Day.
Weekly trainingMahdiyah Ayub from Coolock has joined Hajji for the Phoenix Park training despite the incessant rain. The girls stamp their feet as they catch up on the week’s gossip, waiting for the session to kick off.
Ayub was already a keen footballer player when Hajji called her in 2014 to join the new team. Before playing with Diverse City, she often removed her scarf for fear of sticking out on a pitch of non-Muslim players.
“It was more I was uncomfortable in my own skin,” says the 17 year old, catching her breath after warm-up laps. “Knowing you’re the only Muslim, you try and fit in more with the other girls, so I took my scarf off.”
The decision to join Diverse City has given her the confidence to play her favourite sport while wearing her hijab.
“Since I’ve joined this team, I’ve been wearing it to my school matches, to clubs and everything. The team gave me more confidence to go out there . . . to wear my scarf, to be proud of being a Muslim. To be proud of my scarf because it’s part of my identity.”
Wearing a scarf while playing sport is just like tying your hair back, says Ayub. “It’s also great because when it’s windy or raining you have an extra layer so your hair doesn’t get wet.”
Amina Moustafa, who is in first-year science at Trinity College, doesn’t wear a hijab, but has many friends who were afraid to join teams because of their headscarves. She and her twin sister, who also plays on the team, were lucky enough to grow up in a household where sports was always encouraged.
“My mam said when she was younger she was told not to play, that maybe it wasn’t for her. She didn’t want that for us so she encouraged us to keep going out.
“She loved the idea that there was a Muslim girls team and it was promoting diversity and interculturalism in Ireland. I’ve done so much sport over the years and this is the best team for bonding together. Normally, you just play the sport and go home, whereas I feel when we’re playing there’s more of a connection between the players.”
The girls are so enthusiastic about Diverse City they insisted on continuing training and playing matches during Ramadan – a period of the Islamic year when Muslims do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset.
“It’s a good distraction from eating,” says Moustafa. “You don’t even think about it. We were just thinking about how amazing it was that we actually won a match when we didn’t have any energy.”
Azeez Yusuff, who coaches the team, says he was pleasantly surprised by how talented some players are. “All of them were good from day one when I first saw them – and now they’ve just totally developed which is absolutely amazing.”
“It’s great to see everyone mixing together because people say Muslim women just stay at home and stuff like that. Here you can see they’ve proven them wrong.”
Common senseFormer Republic of Ireland football manager Brian Kerr, who sits on the board of Sari and has followed the Hijabs and Hat-tricks project with great interest, says Fifa’s decision to allow women to wear hijabs while playing was “common sense”.
“Why should they have that restriction when in their culture they have to wear something to cover their hair?” he asks. Kerr believes Ireland’s decision to host the 2003 Special Olympics marked a turning point in attitudes.
“Why aren’t we inclusive in sport for everybody? As long as people give it the best they can and we can provide those opportunities, it can be vastly satisfying for players, coaches and volunteers.”
“A new population is coming into the country; a new diverse group with different religions and different cultural norms.”
Fadhila Hajji is proud to have played a leading role in making competitive football a reality for Irish Muslim women in their teens and early 20s. In December, she received a People of the Year Award for her work with Sari in fighting discrimination through sport.
“I feel proud. I feel like I have achieved something for the team, for myself and also for people around the world that feel inspired. I think it’s great that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities are getting together in one community and playing football.”
Hajji believes Muslim participation in sport sends out a positive message. “Islam is not portrayed very well at the moment. People seeing the Muslim people doing something good, that’s what we need right now.”
Sabah Khan, the captain of this unique all-girls team, recalls how their journey of change began, "Around 2011, a bunch of us were approached by the NGO Magic Bus that uses sports as a means to help poor children lead a better life. They wanted to teach football to both girls and boys but we told them that in Mumbra Muslim girls cannot take up a sport let alone play alongside boys. That's when they decided to exclusively train girls who were keen to try out something they had only dreamt of."
The target was to put together a group of 40 girls but that was easier said than done. "Most of us hail from families that struggle to make ends meet. We can never really spare time for fun and games. We study, chip in at home or work. That's why we were unable to personally go to motivate girls to join in. However, some of us decided to make pamphlets and distribute them outside girls' schools and colleges. Apart from that we also approached the local wing of the Maharashtra Mahila Parishad that works with several self help groups to see if any of their members would be interested in sending their girls for this programme. In this way, we managed to build a team," elaborates Sabah.
The next challenge was to find a ground to practice on. "We went to every school and college in the vicinity that had a ground to find out whether they would allow us to play for two hours every Sunday. Unfortunately, no one was agreeable," shares the articulate leader. It was a member of the Mahila Parishad, who spoke to a board member of a temple trust to secure permission for using the open space around it for playing.
At the outset, the girls decided to call their team 'Parcham'. Aquila, one of the founding members, narrates the story behind it, "We decided to call ourselves 'Parcham' as we are inspired by Asrar ul Haq Majaz, better known as Majaz Lakhnawi. Through his romantic, revolutionary verses, Majaz urged women to look at the hijab not as a barrier but as a flag or banner. He has written: 'Tere maathe pe ye aanchal bauhat hi khoob hai, lekin tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achcha tha… (The veil covering your head and face is beautiful, but if you make a flag out of it, it would be better)'. We, too, have transformed something that many see as a sign of repression into a symbol of revolution."
Through sports Parcham strives to build a just and equal society that is respectful of diversity and celebrates difference and interdependence. Their mission is to empower marginalised communities to access their fundamental rights, creating spaces for dialogue among diverse sections of society. "And our one great achievement has been getting official recognition for our struggle to get a playground for the girls," says Aquila. Last year, after they started a massive signature campaign with the support of 900 girls from across Mumbra, their demand for a ground was finally acknowledged. Female students from various schools, under the leadership of Parcham, wrote a joint letter stating: "We wish to play football and other sports. We believe that through sports we also come together in unity, forgetting our religious and other differences."
When they met with MLA Jeetendra Awhad he was amazed to see this strength of association. He told them that it was perhaps for the first time that 900 girls had got together to ask for a playground to be reserved for them. He also assured them of their very own space to play. "That promise was fulfilled and the football-loving girls of Mumbra are now able to practice freely. Moreover, the move gave a boost to our campaign that motivates girls and women to reclaim open spaces," states Aquila. Their dedicated practice sessions have fetched Parcham some rich rewards. They have won two major local tournaments - one in November 2013 and another in March 2014.
Of course, if the struggles of the group have been remarkable, then so are their individual journeys. Take the case of Saadia Bano (name changed). "When I had first heard about Parcham I immediately wanted to be a part of it. However, I did not have the courage to speak to my parents. I am not allowed to move from home without a 'hijab', so imagine them allowing me to play football! Initially, I used to step out every Sunday telling them that I was going to visit some friend. Then one day when I took my brother's T-shirt to wear for a tournament my mother immediately suspected that I was doing something without telling them. When she confronted me I had to confess to her and my sister."
Saadia's brothers still have no inkling. "After I won a trophy at a tournament I told them that it was a friend's. There are many like me who cannot yet be completely honest with all their family members. We don't want to make them unhappy nor do we want our freedom curtailed. This way we all get what we want," she says.
Adds Salma Ansari, 22, who has supportive parents and is pursuing an MBA degree, "What we need is for the society to accept that girls have an equal right to public spaces; that they too deserve to experience the joy of being able to run free, kick a ball, hold a bat, sprint, jump or swim. Nowadays, we are trying to break gender stereotypes by training a group of 50 young boys and girls together." The religious divide, too, has been overcome with the inclusion of girls from other faiths. Simran, 15, the youngest member of the team, is a Sikh. "We have so many misconceptions about other religions. But perceptions and attitudes change when we meet and interact. Being in Parcham, I am learning about gender, equality, justice… Watch out, I am a feminist in the making!" she says emphatically.
What's next on Parcham's agenda? "We want to set up a resource centre for our girls, complete with books, newspapers, computers and a wi-fi network. Every Saturday, we plan to hold meetings where we can discuss the latest news and concepts like secularism and citizenship to enable everyone to think and form opinions on subjects they are passionate about. The centre will be a safe haven for Muslims and non-Muslims to build friendships," says Sabah.
In the home town of Ishrat Jahan, the young woman who was tragically shot in an encounter in Ahmedabad in 2004, these girls are gearing up to drive out prejudice and hatred.
—(Women's Feature Service)
Five months ago, Rimla Akhtar became the first Muslim woman on the FA Council. In a body which Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, says is “overwhelmingly male and white”, Akhtar is seen as the ideal role model for the Asian community.
But, when I mention this, the 32-year-old chartered accountant smiles and says: “That’s up to others to decide.”
She is one of six women on the
121-strong FA Council, which helps decide major policy for the governing body, and her appointment comes at a time when the lack of diversity in positions of power within the game is a hot topic.
Yesterday’s report by the Sport Person’s Think Tank highlighted the problem with just 19 of the 552 ‘top’ coaching positions at English clubs being held by blacks and ethnic minorities. The only bosses are Chris Powell (right) at Huddersfield and Keith Curle at Carlisle.
“It is unacceptable that we have only two black League managers when something like 30 per cent of players within football are from the black community,” says Akhtar. “We need to see how we can open up football to more diverse managers. It’s a problem right across football, we also have very few black board members. Change does need to happen.”
It has been suggested that football should adopt its own version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, whereby clubs must interview at least one black or minority ethnic candidate for a managerial vacancy.
However, Akhtar says: “For me, quotas are a short-term strategy. I wouldn’t want to be selected for something because I’m a woman, because I’m Asian or because I’m Muslim. I would like to be selected on merit. I’ve had people really close to me, relatives even, that have said, ‘you do realise that you’re being included just because you wear the scarf’.
“In the long term, it’s about making the sports environment more inclusive. That’s what’s lacking right now. We need to get an inclusive mindset as well as action on the ground.”
The Iranian female junior cycling team has created history in their country for winning
Bronze in 2014 Asian Cycling Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan on Monday, making their
mark in Asian cycling
This win has also marked the ﬁrst Asian Championships medal by Iranian female
With this medal, Iran has received 6 medals, including 2 silvers and 4 bronze ones in the
2014 Asian Cycling Championships.
Photo taken from Josiah Ng’s Instagram: Follow him at @josiahcyclist
Pakistani women may not be catching a ticket to the Commonwealth Games themselves, but they can certainly help their Indian counterparts prepare for the Commonwealth Games’ Judo competition scheduled for next month.
The 10-women squad including South Asian Judo Championship gold medalist Humera Ashique, silver medalists Mariam Jabbar, Beenish Khan, bronze medalists Ambreen Masih, Shumaila Gul, Fauzia Mumtaz and emerging talent Aqsa Hussain, Rabia Babar and Iran Shahzadi will travel to Patiala in June.
According to Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) secretary Masood Ahmed, the female squad received rave reviews at the South Asian Championship in Nepal in April.
Ahmed said that since Pakistan is not fielding a team at Commonwealth Games due to Pakistan Olympics Association and Pakistan Government conflict, the athletes will now help the neighbours to vie for the title in Glasgow in July.
“Since we can’t go, we’ll help them, we are South Asian nationss anyway, it’s a great deal for both parties,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
Ahmed said that the Indian official Mukesh Kumar invited Pakistani athletes to Patiala for the training sessions for 20 days.
“It’s going to happen next month, we’ve been invited to Patiala where the Indian squad is preparing,” said Ahmed.
“Kumar invited our female athletes because they are impressive, they’ve given a tough competition to the Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan judokas in the championship,” he said.
Furthermore, he proposed that Pakistani women can come to the Indian national camp in Patiala, where they have the best facilities for the sports. Ahmed said that the practice with Pakistani athletes will help the Indian women improve for Commonwealth Games.
“It will also be a great amount of exposure for our squad.”
Ahmed added that the invitation means more than just an opportunity.
“It is recognition of our talent by our counter-parts, and it’s welcoming. It’s an encouragement for our athletes that they are good enough and that their efforts are not going unseen. In many ways it is an honour and a great way to promote healthy relations between two nations,” said Ahmed.
He said that the team’s visas are in the process and hopefully they will get the documents for travel on time, as the Indian Judo Federation is cooperating with Pakistan.
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya News
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
A step to introduce physical education for girls at Saudi government schools has become the talk of the town in the kingdom, with many hailing it as a positive development and some slamming it as a threat to social values.
Last week, the government advisory Shura Council called on the country’s education ministry to look into including sports for girls at state-run schools on condition that they are in line with Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Meanwhile, Mohammed al-Saleh, secretary-general of the Higher Education Council, told makkahnewspaper.comMonday that the next move would be to recruit sports educators from abroad.
A previous ban on physical education for girls was relaxed in private schools in 2013. The Shura Council’s demand last week to include state-run schools has been welcomed internationally both by the International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Watch.
“It’s a good sign that Saudi authorities appear to realize letting all girls in Saudi Arabia play sports is important to their physical and mental wellbeing,” Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told Agence France Presse.
Al-Watan newspaper published a column on Monday with a title that read: “Would you marry a girl who practiced sports?” The columnist criticized and mocked opponents of the move.
He quoted a two-year old study showing that three-quarters of the country’s population suffered obesity and 75 percent of the women are obese and that 80 percent of secondary diabetes cases were related to obesity.
The article dismissed conservative voices that are critical of making girls play sports at schools. Some conservative clerics had denounced the move as a “Western innovation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
One cleric Abdullah Al Dawood even tweeted that “these steps will end in infidelity and prostitution.”
Speaking to Al Arabiya News from Jeddah, veteran Saudi journalist Omar al-Mudwahi said there was nothing new in the clerical opposition to the move. “The religious institution has always stood against the advancement of women’s rights.”
Abdullah Hamidaddin, a Saudi writer and commentator on religion and politics, wrote in a recent column on Al Arabiya news that the Shura Counci’s move “is not a decision about girls practicing sports. Nor is it one about women rights. This is a decision to push back the authority of the religious institution.
“The easiest way to explain what happened is to say that there are zealots whose interpretation of Islamic scripture is misogynic and thus believe that the only option women have is to lie down and die. Thus the government decided to intervene and give women some hope of a natural life,” Hamidaddin added.
Journalist Mudwahi noted that the plan to introduce physical education for girls in public schools is part of comprehensive government response to high obesity rates among women.
“Municipalities across the kingdom are also creating long pedestrian walkways special for women especially after repeated health ministry figures showing high obesity and diabetes rates among women,” he said.
“Previously all physical education centers are extensions of hospitals as if it is a disease, as if female sports is a disease and it is very expensive,” al-Mudwahi said.
“As a man, it would cost me 300 riyals ($80) per month to go to gym. But it would cost my wife or my daughter about 1000 riyals ($266),” he explained.
He noted that unlike universities, most schools in the primary and secondary education are not equipped with physical education facilities for girls.
“This issue has been passed in the Shura Council, but the important question remains: Are our schools ready for such thing? Of course no,” he said. But within a few years, most schools are likely to have physical education facilities if there is a legal framework for girls to practice sport.
The Saudi Shura Council move is seen as another step empowering women during the reign of King Abdullah, after appointing women into the legislative Shura Council and allowing them to practice different professions which weren’t allowed before such as law.