Journalist Barbara Levin deep dives into the stories behind the women who have chosen activism as their way of life…
Echoes of slipping shoes and blowing horns filled the Brooklyn Expo Center as the Global Goals World Cup (GGWCUP) Finals took over on September 19th. Each competing team brought its version of fierce passion and irresistibly contagious energy. Although the women played to score goals on the field, their mutual objective was for a much greater cause.
On one field, Moving the Goalposts from Africa reflected their culture in a lively pre-game display, while next to them a youth girls team from Connecticut played against women twice their age. Unifying this diversity created a unique atmosphere that flowed throughout the day’s event. By celebrating each other’s differences, each team also discovered shared similarities with the others.
Whether a player grew up in a sheltered environment in the United States, or in one of Kenya’s poorest regions, GGWCUP brought together participants by finding their commonalities, using soccer as a way to promote social change and establish basic human rights.
I grew up playing competitive soccer in the United States between age nine and 20. As I got older, the game became more competitive. My goal was always to make the “elite” team and move up to the highest achievable level of soccer. While being part of a team has taught me valuable everyday lessons, I eventually lost sight of what I was competing for and my soccer career came to an end.
A few months ago I met the co-founders of Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup), Majken Gilmartin and Rikke Rønholt Albertsen. Within a week GGWCup had completely changed my view of soccer, opening my eyes to the powerful role that my childhood sport can play in the global fight for social justice.
At the Brooklyn Expo Center that day, I surrendered to the passion and energy – and watched my childhood sport morph into a means of global social change for the better.
Sport is a universal language. Soccer, known as ‘football’ outside the US, has been described as the world’s most beautiful game. Witnessing a combination of perfect plays leading to a goal with finesse can light up a stadium and unite thousands of people in a matter of seconds. GGWCup looks beyond the perfect play, using soccer to unite women worldwide as a means to tackle larger social issues.
The official definition of universal is “relating to or done by all people or things in the world.”For short, universal means the inclusion of everyone. Unfortunately, many parts of the world still function with ancient systems of social inequality, which exclude women, or whole ethnic groups that could be viewed as an authoritative threat.
Oppressed minorities have fought for equality for hundreds of years and it seems that at the end of every victory there awaits another battle. Many times I question how to even begin working towards social justice in countries ruled by strong traditions and fear of change. After witnessing the power of soccer as an activist platform in New York, I felt hopeful. Meeting some of these incredibly brave women was truly inspiring. Whether their focus is gender equality, quality education or climate change, they all have powerful stories to tell, and the GGWCup platform is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
The Dream Team
At the GGWCup NYC Final 2017, at team of 7 gender equality activists from around the world was invited to play. Each player was chosen for her courage by a prominent gender activist. For example:
Emma Holten, a feminist activist from Denmark, who was a victim of revenge porn at age 17. Like many women at GGWCup, she used her traumatic experience as motivation to affect change. Instead of falling to victimhood, Emma became a major voice in the debate that resulted in the Danish Parliament criminalizing revenge porn.
Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan from Kenya and Tshidi Likate from South Africa were also a part of the GGWCup Dream Team representing the Southern hemisphere.
Adan is the founder of the Horn of Africa Initiative HODI, which uses soccer to promote peaceful resolutions in areas affected by tribal warfare. Through soccer, HODI has initiated group discussions that allow community members to share their experiences with tribal clashes and find ways to move forward without conflict.