Sisters, united | Like mushrooms, women’s soccer sprouts in northern Malawi

The women’s game appears to be building in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa from the grassroots. University of California–Berkeley scholar Martha Saavedra in a 2004 survey of the continent concludes that women play football in at least 30 African countries “and probably more.” “African women’s football is not invisible,” she writes. “Furthermore, [media coverage] is not nearly as often marked by surprise or ridicule as in the past, but more often shows respect and furnishes a straightforward account of events. Still, the men’s (and boys’) game in all its glory and infamy receives dramatically more attention” (“Football Feminine—Development of the African Game: Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa,” in Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation: Kicking Off a New Era, ed. Fan Hong and J. A. Mangan [Cass, 2004], 227).

One could say that development of women’s football in Malawi, judging by the Nkhata Bay experience, exhibits admirable independence, although facilitated by groups like Africa Unplugged and others. The game’s origins in Malawi, known formerly as Nyasaland, date to the influx of football-toting missionaries from Scotland in the 1870s and 1880s. As in South Africa, separate institutions for white and non-white football ensured segregated football as the sport developed before Malawi’s independence in 1966.

The women and girls of Nkhata Bay now seek their own independence, via thrice-weekly training sessions and linked classes on child-rearing and fitness. “School is free but I don’t have money for books so I stopped going,” Chikondi Love, 16, tells FIFA.com. “Nobody helped me before but now my sisters in the team have. If I weren’t playing I would probably go to the market and fight, argue and drink Kachasu,” a potent brew made from maize and sugar. Chikondi, along with Gift Mughogho, is viewed as a possible prospect for one of Malawi’s age-group women’s teams. The senior women’s side is ranked no. 123 among 140 national teams recognized by FIFA.

Updates

  • Seven Nkhata Bay players qualified for the senior Malawi women’s team at regional trials in Mar 08, Ashton writes (see 19 Mar 08).
  • In e-mail correspondence on 27 Mar 07, Africa Unplugged field director Ashton says Nkhata Bay Sisters continues to struggle with the organizational aspects of training and traveling to games. “Unfortunately, because Nkhata Bay is a long way from the hub of the football fraternity for women,” Ashton writes, “little support and guidance is given.” The Malawi FA has not responded to requests for assistance and, as to FIFA, Ashton says that “we are a bit lost” with regard to finding the proper contact. More positively, the women’s team has been able to use the main football pitch in the area despite men’s earlier objections. Since playing friendlies against men, Ashton writes, “[M]en have been much impressed and now give both advice and support.” In Aug 07, Ashton writes in a newsletter that Africa Unpluggled is reluctant to support the team. Players have become “a bit big for their boots,” straying from community responsibilities. But he continues, “[R]ecently things have started to change, and the girls are training again, and with many of the younger girls being included, so it will now be down to the girls to show what they are worth.”

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  1. The Global Game | Women’s football | Maize husks mark lines in Mzuzu, says Mr. Happy:

    [...] Unplugged in Nkhata Bay, Malawi. A revival of the charity’s Nkhata Bay United Sisters FC (see 15 Jan 07) involved several players participating in regional trials for the Malawi senior women’s [...]

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