In December, 2018, the All India Football Federation of India (AIFF) reportedly cancelled the leagues of at least five women’s football associations—Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Goa. While registration of female players in the Centralised Registration System was one of the key problems, the Western India Football Federation from Maharashtra particularly was accused of “doing a poor job of conducting the women’s league”, according to the report. This, in the face of already existing problems that has held women’s football in India in shackles: Lack of funds from the AIFF, lack of women’s football leagues and clubs, lack of exposure and, well, patriarchal cultural baggage.
However, despite the struggles, there have been minor boosts for them over time. For one, this month the team played its first-ever friendlies against Hong Kong yesterday—a major step towards building match experience for the team on an international platform.
On home turf, among other developments is a much smaller, but significant one helmed by Mumbai-based agency Oblique, which has been doing its own bit to tackle the problem of underrepresentation of women in sporting communities across India, starting with football. O.R.B., or ‘Object. Rise. Burn’, is the result of a year-long activism, in which Ruchika Parab, Oblique’s co-founder and creative director, has collaborated with Forca Goa foundation, an NGO that uses football to “mobilise, empower, and connect communities for the positive development of individuals and our state.”
“The Forca Goa foundation is actively working to raise the standard of the game in Goa at a grassroot level, with a focus on girls,” Parab tells us. The resultant O.R.B. campaign, thus, aims to be a first-of-its-kind platform to “organise the power of the collective—individuals, organisations, brands—all banding together to create more equal societies by enabling better representation of communities in all spheres of life.” The first phase of their campaign is tellingly titled ‘A Girl’s Place’.
Through 2018, Parab has spent a considerable part of her time interacting with women and girls of all ages, in the Goa teams and leagues. “Their stories are at once inspiring and heartbreaking. But the sentiment is definitely one of optimism for the future of the game,” she says. “Through this campaign, we’ve found some amazing people who are doing really great work to improve the representation of women and girls in sport across the country. We’re working towards uniting all these champions of change under ‘A Girl’s Place’ campaign.”
‘A Girl’s Place’, as the name suggests, is an attempt to reclaim a statement that has often been fraught with sexism and patriarchy. Their merchandise, hence, resonates with that effort. “It is created to juxtapose a typically masculine graphic with the phrase ‘A Girl’s Place’. This campaign is not just about a theoretical idea of equality, but its application in a very ignored sphere when it comes to representation of women—sport in general and football in particular,” she says. “The text is a sort of refusal to conform, a manifesto of taking what has been denied for so long, not as a handout but as something that’s been earned.”
While the proceeds raised through the sale of ‘A Girl’s Place’ merchandise will go towards the Under 6, Under 8 and Under 10 girl’s leagues, the campaign will also work towards building infrastructure for the game, nutrition, mental health, and gender awareness. “Plus, women coaches and physiotherapists, improving representation of women in all aspects of the game, and help create better role models for the next generation of footballers,” Parab adds.
‘A Girl’s Place’ launches today (January 22), and with it an enduring conversation around representation and gender constructs in Indian sports. But Parab—who has actively worked towards creating conversations around breaking gender constructs in other spaces over the last few years—ensures one important thing: This is just the beginning.
You can follow the campaign here .
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