Girls’ & Young Women’s Soccer
Football (soccer) is an important aspect of Cameroonian culture often noted as a common thread among Cameroon’s extensive number of ethnic groups. The sport, however, is socially delegated for men. BGF uses football as a social development tool to address issues faced by marginalized young women living in vulnerable communities.
In the city of Ngaoundéré, girl’s and young women’s lives are restricted by gender roles that demarcate responsibilities and minimize opportunities. It is not uncommon for teenagers as young as 15 to enter into arranged marriages that lead to the termination of the young woman’s education, teenage pregnancy, and the responsibility of maintaining a household. Without permission from their husbands or fathers, young women are prohibited from leaving their homes, a customary practice that further isolates them from support networks. A league envisioned by these young women, Breaking Ground Football, provides young women with a healthy outlet and access to new social networks.
Breaking Ground Football (BGF) began as a conversation on the sideline of a field among young women who wanted to play football but could not because of social stigma and a lack of opportunity. In 2007, Breaking Ground and the Cameroonian government’s Delegation of Sports created a radio announcement inviting young women age 13-25 to participate in a women’s football league. More than one hundred young women responded and ten coaches volunteered.
Knowing that their participation in football would challenge the local patriarchy, the young women banded in teams and walked door-to-door explaining their passion for football and answering questions about their participation. Due to the league’s success and its ability to reach a vulnerable population, it is now transitioning from a football league into a Sport for Development program. BGF aims to empower young women with leadership and teamwork skills. Coaches have remarked that through participation, young women strengthen their sense of confidence and independence. Many participants refer to their team as a second family and an important place where they can discuss life issues with their peers.
Breaking Ground Football’s evolution includes the current development of a peer leader program and a health curriculum. This transition has largely been in part due to the generosity of donors and strategic new partnerships, which include: Coaches Across Continents, One World Play Project, Chevrolet, and, the US Soccer Foundation.