It’s not easy to strive as a women in Sudan. In fact, as the United Nations' Gender Inequality Index points out, the developing country is one of the most repressive regimes that domineers over its female population to no end. The country is also known for its random application of Sharia law and struggling through a civil war for many years.
However, a group of women in Khartoum is actively trying to destroy status quo by playing a sport they are passionate about: soccer.
Aptly named the Challenge, this all-women team is one of the only two female soccer clubs in Sudan and seeks to represent the country in international tournaments, even though FIFA does not recognize them yet.
“We are named the Challenge, because keeping this team going without any funding from the official football association in Sudan is not easy,” said team captain Sara Edward. “In the beginning, some of the male teams used to underestimate us. But once we play and they see what we are capable of, their respect grows.”
The team was established more than a decade ago.
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Since Sudan’s Football Association refuses to recognize and support them either, this team survives solely on donations from women’s rights organizations and pays the rest from its own pockets.
They train three times a week on a shadeless, dusty, uneven pitch. They used to hold their sessions in a grassy outdoor court until the facility owners accused them of destroying the property.
Along with facing societal resistance, these women also face familial pressure.
“My family doesn't understand my passion for football; they say it's not a sport for ladies, and I should go back to just playing handball,” explained a 27-year-old teammate Sadiya Hassan, who claims she has suffered the most in the team. “This is my dream. I would do anything to be able to represent Sudan.”
Team’s coach Ahmed Babikir says Sudan used to have many female sports teams, adding that they need to go back to that time.
Edward hopes to contribute to the future of women’s soccer in the country. She believes the key is to introduce girls to the sport at an early age. She also aims to start a “football school” for young girls and women.
“In my view, it’s not just an avenue to engage girls in gender equality, but sports itself is an empowering tool,” said Madhumita Das, a senior technical specialist at the International Center for Research on Women. “Even if you don’t discuss anything about female empowerment, 50 percent of the job is done just by letting them play.”
Hopefully, these women will inspire others to stand up for themselves by shattering the stereotype.