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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 10:31 GMT
Muslim girls don sporting jilbabs
Girls playing volleyball in Dadaab refugee camp (Copyright: A Ceschi)
The modern fabrics used to make the sporty jilbabs aids agility
Girls in a refugee camp in northern Kenya have started playing volleyball for the first time thanks to specially designed sportswear for Muslim women.

Some Muslims believe girls should wear a jilbab - a traditional Islamic dress - which hampers agility.

Sports wear company Nike worked with the girls to find something appropriate and presented the designs last year.

Initially camp leaders renounced the outfits, but the girls have now convinced them of their suitability.

The UN refugee agency's Olivier Delarue, who saw one of the first volleyball matches, said the girls had a choice of outfits and went for the most traditional.

Traditional leaders were convinced that indeed the world was moving forward and they had to adjust their thinking as well
UNHCR's Olivier Delarue

"It still allows them to move more freely, as they are made of a very modern type of fabric. It looks something like pants covered with a jilbab," he told the BBC World Today programme after returning from a visit to Dadaab refugee camp.

"For the girls it has been very liberating," he said.


Many of the more than 127,000 people living in the camps in the north fled Somalia 15 years ago after the fall of President Siad Barre.

Girls pose in the new sports uniforms with the Nike design team last year (Copyright: Nike/H Faber)
The girls chose the most traditional designs

Life in the camps is particularly difficult for young girls and only a few of them are able to get an education.

"There's a lot of harassment and problems from the community because of the culture. Playing sports gives the girls a break from their daily life," says Adar Osman Horar, a female community leader in Dadaab.

It also encourages them to continue with their education as the sports activities are linked to the schools, she explained.

Nike, which has been supporting educational projects in the camps for the past three years with UNHCR, sent four designers to the field last June to research designs.

Anything that showed the shape of the body was out of the question, plus it had to be comfortable for playing in the heat.

Mr Delarue says the traditional leaders, who had at first rejected them, were eventually won round.

"They were convinced that indeed the world was moving forward and they had to adjust their thinking as well," he said.

Country profile: Kenya
02 Mar 06 |  Country profiles


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