Women’s football | In Colombia, fútbol for peace, but what about gender equity?

Editor’s note

Beatriz Vélez provided an e-mail interview expanding on the excerpt from Hemisphere: A Magazine of the Americas that appeared in issue 3. Vélez, pictured below, led a three-year university study, “La escenificación del género en el fútbol, hermenéutica de la feminidad y la masculinidad en Colombia” (The Staging of Gender in Football: Hermeneutics of Masculinity and Femininity in Colombia), into the intensely masculine world of Colombian fútbol. Thanks to Buddy Hughes for the translation from Spanish. (The original Spanish version is also available.)

Interview with Beatriz Vélez

GG: What personal experiences have you had with fútbol in Colombia, either as a player or supporter? Did any of these experiences lead you to conduct research into the relationship between gender and fútbol?

Vélez (© 2002 Alma Mater, Universidad de Antioquia; used by permission)

BV: My personal experience relates basically to my childhood days and early youth. Like every middle-class Colombian girl, I had to prepare myself to be a woman, helping my mother with household chores when there was not enough money to hire a maid. My only brother was not required to help out around the house, but was encouraged to go out and play football with his friends. Often he would come home with his clothes and football cleats full of mud, and it did not seem to bother him to leave a trail of dirt and grime across the floor which I had cleaned. This infuriated me, and I asked myself why he had the right to mess up what I had worked so hard to clean, and why he and his friends never ceased to tell a thousand and one times the same old stories about their games and the goals they scored.

In my position as a university professor, women’s studies became contagious for me, and I began to study the meaning of sexual identity and the way the society defines the potential or capability of the human body—for example, women as fit to produce children, men fit to be athletes or soldiers.

GG: You write in the fall 2002 issue of Hemisphere: A Magazine of the Americas that “field research in Medellín in 1999 turned up … girls who were beaten, mocked or insulted just for playing soccer.” What was the social situation of these girls? Did they continue in their efforts to play fútbol? If so, what was their motivation to keep playing?

BV: During 1997–1998 [Ed.: 1996] or thereabouts, a program was developed to reduce the level of violence among young people in the city of Medellín, Colombia. The program was called Fútbol por la Paz (Football for Peace) and used football as its mode of operation. Among other objectives, it sought to train young people how to negotiate their conflicts, and dealt with decision making and the establishment of rules for interaction. Taking into consideration the role and importance of women in the community, symbolically at least as mothers, it was deemed necessary to invite females to participate. One of the principles was the mixing of sexes on the teams; another was that the first goal in the game had to be made by a girl; and there were some others.

The persons I interviewed, who were responsible for the program, confessed that after a girl had scored the first goal, the boys would say, “Now we are going to play real football,” and thereafter the girls on the team would hardly ever get to kick the ball. On many occasions, the fathers would run onto the field and hit or mistreat the girls, and prohibit them from continuing with the program in spite of the fact that the program had the support of the mayor of the city.

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