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In Bengal, football brings girls to school

RANJITA BISWAS

UNICEF and FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) have launched a unique experiment to harness the universal appeal of football to encourage education, with a special focus on the girl child.



ENCOURAGING: Football is the incentive to attend school. Photo: AFP

Shirin, 10, from Murshidabad district in West Bengal would look on enviously as boys her age played football. How she wished she too could play too. Now, thanks to a partnership project between UNICEF and FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), she does.

Play football

This unique experiment harnesses the universal appeal of football to encourage education, with a special focus on the girl child. The programme specifically encourages girls to participate in games, an effort the partners hope will help towards gender equity. The right to play is, after all, part of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The scheme, introduced in India in 2004, is part of a worldwide programme launched during the FIFA 2003 Women's World Cup. For the pilot project, schools from Murshidabad and Jalpaiguri, both of which are underdeveloped and have a high dropout rate — have been chosen. The Cup that year was dedicated to UNICEF's "Go Girls! Education for Every Child" campaign — an outreach programme aimed at getting more girls to school.

The 2001 census of India showed that 59 million children were out of school, 35 million of them girls. The Government's Sarva Shiskha Abhiyan (SSA: Education for All) campaign aims at providing quality education for all. Overall enrolment has increased now, but about 37 per cent of the enrolled children drop out before the completing five years of primary school. More than half of them are girls.

The FIFA-UNICEF effort bolsters this campaign. And football crazy West Bengal is the ideal place to start. Through its local arm, the Indian Football Association (IFA), FIFA has distributed 32 sports-in-a-box kits, which contain goalposts, nets, corner flags, uniforms, footballs and whistles.

When the FIFA-UNICEF project was launched, sceptics wondered whether conservative rural societies would accept the concept of football for girls as well as boys. "We need the support of the parents and the community. So, we ran a sensitisation programme last year." says Sulagna Roy, Education Officer, UNICEF, Kolkata.

Roll call

To encourage attendance, girls who attend school regularly have a better chance of finding a place in the team. Schools with better attendance records stand a better chance of participating in inter-school matches.

Nafisa Khatun, a ninth grade student from Domkal in Murshidabad, says that she was never allowed to even "touch a football", but "now I get to play". Recently, UNICEF and IFA ran a five-day residential teachers' training course in Murshidabad to educate physical training teachers of primary schools in the nitty-gritty of football. Of the 40 teachers who attended, 18 were women. The UNICEF-FIFA partnership has been able to reach out to more than 6,000 children in Murshidabad, including girls who are discovering the joys of playing football.

Courtesy: Women's Feature Service

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