On April 20th in Skënderaj there was an unusual, interesting event, which you do not occasionally see or hear about every day, a football tournament was held with teams of boys and girls. This activity was made possible through the support of “Act on Equality” project, which is implemented by the non-governmental organization PEN – Peer Educators Network. Some high school students were gathered in a football field and were awaiting the rest of their companions who would play in this tournament. You could witness the fear in the faces of the two organizers, Aurora and Brahim. “When they arrive, they will most probably say that they’re late because of the transportation,” said Aurora. In order not to delay it longer, they decided to start playing with the teams that were already present. Two girls were reluctant to join, whilst looking at each other with a little embarrassment. They wore their t-shirts with the logo of the activity, the girls joined and the game started. The girls which at first hesitated to participate in the game, were now playing with enthusiasm. They ran and played with a lot of zest. In addition, they decided on a rule where only the girls would give the goals. They wanted to encourage the girls as much as possible, because they’d give the ball to the boys mostly. The organizers and players get super excited to see that the rest of the players who had been delayed due to traffic were coming now. “We’re here” says one of the girls, “did you think we would not come? Sorry, but it was impossible to arrive sooner” she continues and starts wearing her shirt and sneakers. One of the girls, Eriona, scored a goal against the opposing team while the goalkeeper was Rahime. After the game they discuss about it. “Did you see the fantastic goal I scored?” says Eriona, and Rahime does not mind at all, she turns and laughs. “Yes, but I will show you my skills in the next game” Rahime replies. The game continues then unobstructed with enthusiasm and joy shown by boys and girls. But one of the boys who is seated, is heard complaining: “Play to win or do not play at all. Look at how she laughs even though she can’t score” he says for one of the girls, it seems that his expectations may be higher. When asking them how they feel about playing with girls, they say they are careful not to hurt them. “It’s fine. But the boys aren’t excited to play with girls. They might even be afraid. You have to be more careful when playing with them,” says Blerton Baliu, a high school student. Soon after there is a change in the game play. Everyone starts to play more freely, and this is just one step towards breaking the stereotypes that follow them everywhere.
NGO Peer Educators Network within the project “Act on Equality” held a three-day training with many other young people, including the youth of Skenderaj. The theme of the training was “Gender-based and sexual violence”. Following this training, these young people led by Aurora and Brahimi, have held trainings and discussions on gender-based violence and sexual violence. As a conclusion of the activities held by them and other young people in their municipality, through posters and lectures they announced a football tournament. The call emphasized that both girls and boys would take part. The girls were strongly encouraged to attend, which made this call special. Their aim was to help start challenging the gender stereotypes through this activity. From a very young age, children have separate toys – dolls and pink cups for girls, and cars and blue gadgets for boys (or other stuff but certainly not something “feminine”). From the very beginning there is a “gender division” where girls need to be more careful, to look after kids, and as a result remain out of many other areas that are considered inadequate for them, and this applies to sports and football games. But even boys and men remain out of the lot just because of this division. They should not play with dolls, they should not watch after children, they do not clean or do house chores – because they have been taught like this for so long, this is what the patriarchal society imposes – and they are embarrassed to behave otherwise. The girls are therefore categorized as the fragile and prudent ones, which have to behave like “ladies”. These stereotypes are an everyday reality for both girls and boys. Everyone has certain expectations for them, and thus can hinder or even destroy their potential. This is a cultural issue deeply rooted in the human psyche, not only in Kosovo but also beyond. Niamh McKevitt, an English footballer who has played for some time for the Sheffield Millhouse Juniors’ team of boys, in an article for the prestigious British newspaper The Guardian, has talked about some of the experiences and challenges she has faced. The first which she recalls is the shaming and harassment from the opposing players as well as the parents of the players, she has had to endure and ignore. “I act as if I am ignoring this, but it helps boost my adrenaline for the game,” she says. At the end, the boys of the opposing team are always amazed of her great skills.
There are many girls and women from Kosovo who don’t surrender in sports, such as the well known judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, or footballers Fatmire Bajrami Alushi and Kosovare Asllani. Fatmire Bajrami, is a 29-year-old footballer, who’s now retired. She played for the German national team, and in different teams, whereas the last one was Paris Saint-Germain until 2016. In 2010, she won the third place in the “FIFA Ballon d’Or” competition, which is awarded to the best players in the world. Kosovare Asllani, a professional footballer who plays for the English team Manchester City and also for the national team of Sweden. With the pseudonym Kosse, Asllani is an expert scorer, possesses great technique and skills. Lately her team won the England Championship in a match against Chelsea. Another girl who aims at professional football, like Fatmire and Kosovare, now plays in the High Schools tournament. She’s Blerta Veliu, who has been playing for two months in the girls’ football club “Drenica”. “We were 25 girls, and now we are 20. I really hope the number will not decrease,” she says. Soon after she started playing football for the Drenica team, Blerta says that some other friends asked her if she would play for Skenderaj. “We formed a team with the girls. When I asked my parents for permnission, they allowed me to since they knew I’ve always been the sporty type “she says. Blerta says that she’s played since she was a kid and has tried many sports. “Since I was a little kid, I always played sports with other kids and with my brothers, football especially,” she says. Out of all the sports she has played and enjoys a lot like tennis, gymnastics, and volleyball, there’s a sport she likes even more but hasn’t been able to master. “I’ve always wanted to try Judo, but I didn’t know where to start from, and I had nowhere to practice” says Blerta. “But I’m also very happy to play football,” she concludes as she leaves to join her friends for the next game. After the game is finished, they picked a winning team. They took a picture together, with the cup awarded by the project manager. Kadri Gashi, project manager of “Act on Equality”, along with project assistant, Ideal Hoxha, felt content with the achievement of these young people and their initiative to challenge stereotypes and seek equal rights. “Through this project, managed to change the approach of these youngsters. Sport is for everyone, and the commonplace stereotypes are being eliminated” says Mr. Gashi after the closing.