How a USW lecturer helped give African girls the chance to play football

Females in Zanzibar were once called ‘hooligans’ because they dared to play football. Today – thanks to a film by a South Wales academic - they are seen as ambassadors for the country, and its government has changed official policy to encourage schoolgirls to play the sport.

The change came about after Florence Ayisi – Professor of International Documentary Film at the University of South Wales (USW) – produced ‘Zanzibar Soccer Queens’ in 2007, which focused on the country’s first female football team - Women Fighters FC – which was formed in 1988.

The film helped to expose the women to a wider audience, at home and abroad, and resulted in the team being invited to Germany in 2009 as part of a cultural exchange programme. 

The success of the film – both with viewers and in changing views in Zanzibar, which is a semi-autonomous group of islands off East Africa – motivated Florence to make a follow-up film, ‘Zanzibar Soccer Dreams’, which has its world premiere during the prestigious final night of the Canadian Sports Film Festival, which is being held between May 20 and 22 in Toronto. It will also get its African premiere at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in July.

Florence - whose documentary ‘Sisters In Law’, about women’s roles in a Cameroon court, won a Cannes award in 2005 – explained why she has highlighted the Zanzibar women’s efforts.

“When I moved to Britain from Cameroon in the mid-80s, all I saw was negativity about Africa. It was the era of Live Aid and Bob Geldof. I wanted to show the other Africa beyond the headlines,” she said.

“Making Zanzibar Soccer Dreams allowed me to continue this effort, highlighting the challenges that women and girls there faced in the country, and how they were up against insults – they were called ‘hooligans’ for playing the game - and cultural challenges.

“This new film shows changes in both the individuals featured, and the society they live in, as women’s soccer moved from the streets to the playing fields of government schools where young Muslim girls can now equally participate in soccer as part of sports education.

“The schoolgirls cherish this right to play the game, despite continued challenges and limited resources. They are very self-conscious and aware of their new status as one girl declares, ‘something great has happened to girls’. 

“Islam, soccer and womanhood now seem to converge and coexist in harmony as women experience a significant transformation of their identities; from being ‘hooligans’ and ‘street kids’ to being regarded as cultural ambassadors."

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