At the turn of the 21st century, the Ghana national women’s team qualified for the Women’s World Cup, making the Black Queens the first Ghanaian national football team to debut at an international competition. It was another 7 years before the male Black Stars equalled the achievement by qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Despite breaking that glass ceiling, female football in Ghana has struggled to break down other barriers. Today, the women’s game battles thanklessly against stereotypes and opposition, as well as the financial burden which makes development of the women’s game such a difficult prospect.
Stories can be found all across Ghana of girls who enjoyed kicking a ball barefoot with friends, cousins, neighbours in the streets and the dust pitches, at school or after church, under the morning sun or in the dusk of evening. Girls who prefer their Ronaldo’s to their Rihanna’s, their Di Marias to their Dumelo’s; young ladies who would take Match Of The Day over Millionaire Matchmaker or would prefer a new pair of Adidas Predators over a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
But in Ghana many of these same girls face a tough choice between footballing passion and the aspirations of their parents or family members, or even society as a whole. A daughter’s choice to play sport remains very hard for many to accept. Girls have no business in a man’s world, they would have you believe. Some may propose that religion does not allow for a female to partake in a male pastime. Others would suggest that football makes a girl lazy, butch, unmarriageable material, barren – and to top it all off, the girl wouldn’t get paid well for the privilege anyway.
It’s tough to observe the fierce opposition to the prospect of a female footballer which still exists at a large scale in Ghana. Many coaches of girl’s teams advocate that football offers a way out for many girls who are in communities where teenage girls get pregnant or run off to the capital to work as a hawker or sleep on the street. Football can also offer educational support, where it is noted that more than 65% of girls over 15 in the Northern Region have received no formal education (compared to the national average of 21%).
In a country where sport and education are traditionally dominated by men, the Right to Dream football academy is fighting against the dominance of male football and gender inequalities by helping provide young women a route to excel at both.
Right To Dream has opened the very first residential football academy for girls in Africa – providing lush green pitches and state of the art equipment and facilities to help young women cultivate their skill and aim for the stars. Right To Dream has also been offering scholarships to girls in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In one round, 1000 girls from those countries took part in trials for the first nine places on the course. Parental scepticism was one of the biggest hurdles faced by the academy when it first launched, so scouts and employees had to physically attend homes of those lucky enough to be selected to attend, in order to explain to family members how beneficial an opportunity this is.
There are 15 girls at the academy, with two more at recently launched schools in Kumasi and Takoradi. Small but viable steps are being made to give girls a chance and a platform to live their dreams. Former Manchester United scout Tom Vernon, the founder of Right To Dream says that the academy’s programme “not only bodes well for challenging and changing the mind-set around women’s sport in West Africa, but I would hope [it] provides the catalyst for many more similar development opportunities for talented African girls across the continent”
Right To Dream, which was first established in 1999, has operated an academy service for males since day one. Its structure has provided a safe and secure route to a possible footballing career. Abdul Majeed Waris was the first graduate of Right To Dream to play at a FIFA World Cup, with the honour of being one of the Black Stars to perform for Ghana at World Cup 2014. So the future is bright for the girls who are finding their feet at the new female academies. And with two US scholarships in 2015, the Right To Dream ladies are catching up to the boys and hopefully blazing a trail right through the barriers to the female game in Ghana and the African continent as a whole.
By Dr. Jermaine Bamfo