Amman, Jordan – About 20 years ago, a few girls were playing football in the streets of their neighbourhoods in Jordan.
Most of them played with the boys, as football was not considered a girls’ thing by the conservative society in the kingdom. There was no club, no coach – in fact, no kind of infrastructure existed for female football players.
“It was very difficult in the beginning,” remembers Stephanie al-Naber, who used to play in the streets when she was little.
The society widely rejected the idea of girls playing football, an obstacle for many, but not all.
For some like Stephanie, the passion for the game was bigger than the obstacles.
“When you come to play football and you see there are 20 girls in the same situation it motivates you.”
Slowly, things started to change.
One, then two, clubs formed women’s teams, then a league was initiated and in 2005 the first women’s national football team was founded.
There were only about 30 players in the country the coach could choose from. But it worked. That same year, the team brought home the West Asian Football Federation Cup.
The journey just began.
After 13 years, women’s football is an established sport in Jordan, backed by His Royal Highness Prince Ali bin Hussein.
Although prejudices remain, popular perceptions have changed and a framework facilitating women’s football has been established.
In 2016, Jordan was the first country in the Middle East to host a FIFA Under-17 World Cup. This year, the first senior women’s football event followed with the Asian Cup, the qualifying tournament for the World Cup.
“These women have carved the rocks for future generations,” says Samar Nassar, a former Jordanian Olympic swimmer and the CEO of the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Organising Committee.
“The story about how women who cover their hair are changing stereotypes in the Middle East was fine 10 years ago – but now they are competing on an international level!”
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Some of the players who founded the national team in 2005 still form the heart of it. Their big dream was to qualify for the World Cup in France next year.
Losing all three of the group games, the dream did not come true.
But this story was never about the World Cup.
This is a story about women who persevered and by this, broke popular gender perceptions in their society paving a way for future generations.
The research was partly supported by Bread for the World, the German protestant church development service.