Playing by their own rules

Moving the Goalposts is a Football for Hope project based in the Kilifi district in Kenya which aims to use football as a tool to empower girls and young women, helping them escape the cycle of poverty in the area.

Doreen sits in the shade of a giant mango tree at the side of the football pitch in her trademark royal blue shorts and her Moving the Goalposts t-shirt. She is surrounded by teenage girls in an assortment of football gear - shorts, skirts, ragged t-shirts, school shirts and colourful traditional wraps typical of coastal Kenya.

Not one of them owns a pair of football boots but after a full training session kicking up the dust with their bare feet they are ready to listen to what Doreen, their health peer educator and counsellor, has to say. Today's session is on girls' empowerment and Doreen draws strongly on her own life to illustrate her points. "My mother left my father while she was still breastfeeding me and I never saw her again," she says. "My dad had five wives and my mum was his last but they disagreed and she left, leaving me in the care of my stepmother. My dad died not long after that so my early life was spent moving from one relative to another as I struggled to complete my education. Of my dad's eleven children, I am one of only three who managed to finish secondary school."

MTG made me self-reliant. As an orphan, I always had to rely on others - for food, for clothes, for school fees - but now I am helping them.
Doreen has made positive progress in her life with the help of MTG

Her story is not unusual in the Kilifi district. It is one of the poorest and most conservative districts in Kenya and girls come second to boys in almost every department. Less than 20 per cent of the girls who finish primary school manage to go on to secondary school. Their health and well-being is hit hard by early pregnancies, unsafe abortions (illegal in Kenya), early marriages and high HIV infection rates. And while employment opportunities are thin on the ground for everyone, they are even rarer for girls. Many end up as low-paid domestic workers, sex workers, hawkers or casual workers with no security.

In 2001, Moving the Goalposts (MTG) began as a tiny girls' football and development project with just four girls' football teams. The aim was to empower girls by involving them in all aspects of the project and now, eight years later, MTG reaches out to 3,000 girls in over 150 teams in 23 leagues.

Learning from peers
With so many health issues to address, MTG runs a peer-led reproductive health programme for girls, which is what first drew Doreen into the organisation. When she was at secondary school her football team was visited by MTG's peer educators, who left a lasting impression on her. Once she had completed her final exams she started her own football team, participating in the MTG league, before she had the chance to be trained as a peer educator.

"I was really interested in the reproductive health programme," she says, "because in our community it's very hard for a girl to get information from her mother - it's normally an aunt or a grandmother who educates a girl about these things but many of us don't live with our families anymore." MTG fills that gap. "As for me, I didn't have parents at all, so MTG really helped me get informed and now I inform others." Doreen's impressive skills as a peer educator caught the attention of the programme manager, Margaret Belewa, and she was called in for a job interview. "Doreen walked confidently into the interview room, answered questions freely and quickly struck up a bond with the panel," says Margaret. "Despite her inexperience we could all see her potential and she was offered the job. It was a good decision as Doreen is now an integral member of the MTG staff."

MTG has broadened Doreen's horizons more than she ever could have imagined. She has just returned from a learning visit to Nigeria where she spent two months at the Girl Power Initiative, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to empowering young girls and women. When it comes to sharing her new knowledge, she knows exactly where to start.  "The first person I'll talk to is my older stepbrother. He's the one who told me I couldn't be a doctor. He said only men can do such important work, so he tried to stop me from taking science subjects in school. But I did physics, chemistry and biology anyway and I passed. The only reason I didn't study medicine is because I didn't have the funds. So I will talk to him first because he needs to know the truth about gender."

Her next target is the players in her team. "I'll talk to the girls," she says, "because they need to know their rights and responsibilities, and they need to know the myths and misconceptions about gender."

Doreen still dreams of training to be a doctor but for now her job at MTG has enabled her to help her family. "MTG made me self-reliant. As an orphan, I always had to rely on others - for food, for clothes, for school fees - but now I am helping them. I built my stepmother a mud house with a makuti (palm tree leaf) roof and I bought her a mattress. I also give my siblings money every month for food, to help them support their own families."

She is one of many young women in MTG who, with the support of the Football for Hope movement, has turned her life around. Before, gender inequality meant her chances of owning land or property and becoming independent were virtually non-existent. Now, through taking on a leadership role, organising her own activities and working with community members to educate them on the rights and responsibilities of girls, Doreen and her friends have a much brighter future. "I have enrolled in a short course in community development and I plan to enroll in others," she says. "And in the next five years I want to have bought myself a plot of land and to have built myself a house. If possible I'll also build one for my stepmother and this time it will have an iron sheet roof."

This article is from the September issue of FIFA World, the new FIFA magazine. You can read every issue of FIFA World online by clicking the link on the right.