Women’s Football for Social Change


Many scholars have addressed the religious and social concerns of Muslim women in sport.  They’ve detailed varying observances which illustrate the struggle women face in reconciling being Muslim, being a woman, and being an athlete (for more on this, see Muslim Women in Sport).  Sport sociologists have also studied the role of sports within a society.  It’s been generally accepted that sports are a part of a larger, societal picture.  Sport sociologists also describe how sports can be utilized by countries to facilitate social progress or to undermine individual agency.  Specifically, feminist sport theories articulate how sport plays this role as it relates to women’s struggles for equality.  However, between all of these studies connecting Islam to sport, sports to society, and women to society, there exists a gap.  The research on Muslim women’s participation in sport is plentiful, but research on the sociological effects of their participation is seemingly absent.


What is the influence of women’s national teams?  If sport can mobilize women, as seen in feminist sport theory, is it having this effect in the Muslim culture?  Are Muslim female athletes championing other women’s rights, as well?  Or maybe the presence and success of female athletes in these spaces threaten the status quo thereby resulting with negative effects?  Like the reinforcement of prejudices, oppression and/or gender roles?  Are women in sport in Muslim countries pushing things forward?  Backward?  Which women are benefitting?  Why women aren’t?  Is there an explanation saying nothing has changed?  How do results vary by country?  All of these questions remain unanswered.


However, just because the research isn’t back yet doesn’t mean that people aren’t thinking about them.




In narrating the celebratory rally for the Iranian men’s national team in 1997, Franklin Foer cites French anthropologist Christian Bromberger who wrote that women, being denied entrance to Azadi stadium, chanted,

Aren’t we part of this nation?  We want to celebrate too.  We aren’t ants.[1]

Here, these women are making a louder claim than just that they want to be admitted into a stadium.  They want to be “admitted” into the social culture of their country.  Elaheh Moladoast, a referee in a women’s league, was part of a special group of women who were admitted to a game in early June of 2005 during Iran’s World Cup qualifying rounds.  She hopes to use the stadium as a way to progress women’s rights in the country.

This is just the beginning of our people having a new culture and getting used to women coming into stadiums.  We are defending our rights as women to come and watch rather than sitting at home and watching on television.  There should be no limitations[2].

Moladoast understands that their entrance to the stadium that night was significant and believes it to be symbolic of the rights Iranian women should have.




Iranian women aren’t the only ones looking to capture momentum from the field and bring it into social sphere.  The significance of a women’s soccer league and of female athletes isn’t lost on the women playing in Turkey’s newest women’s professional football league.  Ayça Yilmaz of Sakarya believes she is obligated to use her platform as a player to influence the Turkish culture.  She hopes to reach Turkish girls, to tell them that they can do anything.

I think women can do anything.  And God doesn’t give this kind of talent to everyone.  As women, we have this will power.  And it will grow bigger.  And the girls of Turkey will follow.[3]

Her teammate, Esra Erol, already sees the influence the new league is having on girls in their country.  “When I was young there were people I looked up to.  Now, young girls are looking up to us.  They say, ‘I want to be like them.’  That’s a good thing.  It makes me happy.[4]”  Ayça and Esra have already harnessed their power and they intend to use it at every chance possible.




Similar to Ayça and Esra, Jackline Jazrawl and fellow Palestinian women’s national team teammate, Honey Thaljieh, are ready to change their world using their foot-skills.  Jackline said,

The Arab world is very strict compared with other cultures.  We have to change it, and the change will start with the women.  Through football we can make our minds more open, and our society too.[5]

On October 26, 2009, the Palestinian women’s national team laced up to play their very first home international game; they faced off against Jordan.  Honey, captain of the Palestinian women’s national team, thinks that this game was a huge event in itself and she believes that it facilitated change in Palestinian society.

It’s still difficult sometimes, but this has broken all the rules for women here.  This was a big event to get both women and men together in Palestinian society.  In a way, today was like a marriage between the Palestinians,

she said[6].  That men showed up to support a women’s athletic competition was a big deal.  Jackline hoped they were making a statement, targeted at empowering the women in the audience and proving themselves to the men.  Forcefully, Jackline asserted

We can’t say, oh we have to sit in our homes and in the kitchens like our moms.  You know?  We have to change it.  We have to say that Palestinian women—the women in Palestine—are free and they can do whatever men do.[7]

That wasn’t the only statement being made that day, though.  Honey felt there was another message.  And this one was to the world at-large: “This is important and shows the world that we don’t care about the barriers and the checkpoints.  We have shown the world that we can fight, but that when we fight, we fight through peaceful play,” she said, referencing the violence and resulting restrictions that are a part of her daily life[8].  The video below highlights the game and its social significance.




Even though the research isn’t back just yet, women in the Middle East know very clearly that football is a place where they can wage a larger battle.  One for equality.  Respect.  Inclusion.  They have a statement to make and the pitch is their platform.




[1] Foer, Franklin.  How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. New York: HarperCollins.  2004. p221.
[2] Tait, Robert.  Iranian women kick out against football ban.  The Guardian.  6 June 2005. Web. 10 December 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jun/06/iran.roberttait>
[3] Yarbil, Gizem.  “Female soccer players shoot down Turkish taboos.” WorldFocus.  10 Sept. 2009.  Web.  10 Dec. 2009. <http://player.theplatform.com/ps/player/pds/kj-5OcNN0M?pid=ttFWuMdSxVYlyFH4LgJ1N7JGT1PwprrL>.
[4] Yarbil, Gizem.  “Female soccer players shoot down Turkish taboos.” WorldFocus.  10 Sept. 2009.  Web.  10 Dec. 2009. <http://player.theplatform.com/ps/player/pds/kj-5OcNN0M?pid=ttFWuMdSxVYlyFH4LgJ1N7JGT1PwprrL>.
[5] Shabi, Rachel.  Women Fly Palestinian Flag on the Pitch. Bethlehem University.  14 June 2006. Web. 10 December 2009. <http://www.bethlehem.edu/news_events/bu_in_news/list.php?id=87>.
[6] Jeremy, Montague. “Women flock to see first female football game in West Bank.” CNN. 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SPORT/football/11/06/palestinian.womens.football.westbank/index.html>.
[7] Gilinsky, Jaron, prod. Playing Soccer for More Than a Win. New York Times, 28 Oct. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/10/28/world/middleeast/1247465410812/playing-soccer-for-more-than-a-win.html>.
[8] Jeremy, Montague. “Women flock to see first female football game in West Bank.” CNN. 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. <http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SPORT/football/11/06/palestinian.womens.football.westbank/index.html>.
[9]Schleifer, Yigal.  In Turkey, Girls’ League is Soccer’s New Goalpost. WeNews. 17 April 2006. Web. 10 December 2009. <http://www.womensenews.org/story/athleticssports/060417/turkey-girls-league-soccers-new-goalpost>.
Page by Risa Isard.

How to cite this article: “Women’s Football for Social Change,” Written by Velihan Erdogdu, Risa Isard, Danny Mammo and Brian Kim (2009), Edited and Updated by Maggie Lin and Patricia Spears (2013), Soccer Politics Pages, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp (accessed on (date)). 

2 thoughts on “Women’s Football for Social Change

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