Arab Women Are Breaking Stereotypes and Reclaiming Football

From Egypt to Saudi Arabia, these are the women to watch

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Apart from the huge resurgence in female skaters, there’s another sport finally allowing women a space. Perhaps more than most sports, football in popular culture is an extremely gendered activity. As shown by long-time lad culture, football hooliganism, pint parades and that one dude who rocks up to a 9am lecture in a Barca shirt, the football community is largely exclusive.

Despite the FIFA Women’s World Cup being played out this month, it receives only a fraction of the coverage of its male counterpart. This discrimination is being directly tackled, with 28 players from this year’s team suing the US Soccer Federation for ‘institutionalised gender discrimination’, for reasons such as how men earn up to $8,000 more than women per game.

It was only last year that professional female footballers were allowed to play full-time, having previously been expected to train alongside navigating a 9-5 job. However, it is evident that with proactive engagement and productive dialogue with the patriarchal powers that be, women’s football is on the rise.

This is most evident in the region thanks to a new generation of young female visionaries. This includes teams such as the Greens, a female Saudi sports team that aims to use their passion for football in order to enable environmental awareness, making literal goals by distributing reusable bags to the crowds and cleaning up the stadium themselves.

Also leading the scene as always are influencers, particularly 19 year-old Lisa Zimouche. With over 2 million followers on Instagram, Zimouche encourages young women to engage with the sport by posting small street-ball videos showcasing her skills, showing it doesn’t take a big stadium to make an impact. She also productively informs young Arab women on the potential setbacks, failures and challenges they may face. Zimouche is also a Puma ambassador, a step-forward in football fashion as they finally bring young POC women to the forefront. This is a feat that’s been reflected in fashion with Nike releasing their Pro Hijab campaign, which coincides with Saudi’s declaration of its release of the female spectatorship ban from sports stadiums.

Finally, there is the field talent themselves, with Egypt’s 20 year-old Sarah Essam winning ‘Arab Woman of the Year’ this May and becoming Stoke City’s top scorer (scoring the same amount of goals as her much more widely-known Egyptian male counterpart Liverpool player Mo Salah).

This increase in female Arab footballers is made a testimony, even in the cultural industry, primarily by Nahiza Arebi’s newly-released documentary Freedom Fields, which tracks female Libyan footballers as they fight for their rights in the national football teams.

Between defending rights and tackling opposing forces, the determination of female Arab footballers strikes a promising future.

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