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Kurdish women seek football freedom

Kurdish women footballers
Team officials went to talk to the women's families to get their approval

By Jaafar El-Nasrawy
BBC Arabic, Erbil

Kurdish women's football teams are still pretty new.

The first only started a couple of years ago, but they are being seen as a way to prize open the door to more equality in a male-dominated society that takes a dim view of women in sport.

In Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish administration that rules Iraq's northern provinces, there are eight women's teams, with around 20 members in each squad.

One of the best in Erbil's football league table is Fatat Erbil (Erbil Girls).

The team manager, Mrs Kafi Raouf Seddiq, says women footballers have to overcome many social prejudices.

"Kurdistan has a tribal and religious community that believes that it is a taboo for women to play football in front of spectators," says Mrs. Seddiq.

"So we held special meetings with the players' families to convince them that if women are good at football they should be able to use their talents and show off their skills."

Team Training

Although women's football teams have few championships to play in and those that do exist are not that competitive, team members take their rigorous training seriously.

Kurdish women footballers
Football is a first step towards freedom and liberation for Kurdish women
Sanaa Karim

Like all of Erbil's teams, Fatat Erbil's coach is a man: Muhammad Sardar.

He puts the squad through its paces three times a week with each training session lasting four hours.

The members of women's football teams say they feel empowered by practising a game that has always been exclusively for men.

"Football is a first step towards freedom and liberation for Kurdish women," says Sanaa Karim, one of the players of Fatat Erbil.

She believes that it is that sense of empowerment which is the main motivation for women who struggle to overcome prejudice as well as the lack of training equipment and limited competition.

Challenge

Women's football is supported by the local Kurdish government, but officials in women's teams believe that the support they get is less than that offered to men.

But despite all the obstacles, women's football matches are becoming popular among the public.

Karawan Aziz, one of the fans of women's football, described to the BBC how he enjoys the games.

The first women's football match he watched was in celebration of Valentine's Day.

At the end of the match the players said they wanted the chance to play against men's teams to see if they could prove that they were better.

Such matches are rare anywhere in the world, but the tenacious women footballers of Kurdistan can live in hope that one day they will have the chance to beat their male rivals.



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