FIFA, UNICEF team up for girls’ soccer in India

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    By Lindsey Iorg

    The common principle that all children have a right to education and to play sports compelled FIFA and UNICEF to distribute 65 sports-in-a-box kits to children in India.

    A traditional belief in India that discourages girls from attending school has produced a 14 percent gender gap in primary school attendance rates. This same belief prevents girls from participating in sports, often confining females to the home.

    The sports-in-a-box kits contain school supplies and soccer equipment to help encourage girls to attend school and participate in sports.

    “Even though India has a primary school attendance rate of 76 percent, it is one of the countries where there is a major gap between boys and girls [enrollment],” said Oliver Phillips, UNICEF communications officer. “By giving them the tools they need, it should raise the number of girls going to school.”

    FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, donated the kits to the UNICEF West Bengal office. UNICEF distributed the kits to the Murshidabad and Jalpaiguir districts in early September.

    Phillips said the two organizations hope the kits will act as an incentive for an increase in female school attendance and equal gender participation in athletics.

    In India, most families adhere to a tradition culture that educates boys and limits girls to life at home. Primary school enrollment for boys is 78 percent, while girls fall behind at 64 percent.

    Jay Bostwick, a junior from South Jordan, majoring in anthropology, studied in India last year and said it”s typical to see the traditional gender beliefs.

    “When it comes to paying school fees, most [Indians] will send boys to school rather than girls,” Bostwick said.

    Whether disapproving or in support, the reality of girls participating in soccer has intrigued Indian residents. According to a UNICEF press release, girls playing soccer in the Murshidabad district attracted a crowd of nearly 3,000.

    “Obviously we”re dealing with traditional societies that keep girls out of school and educate boys,” Phillips said. “Resistance is there, but people are beginning to understand the entire community benefits when everyone goes to school.”

    Due to their lower social status, girls are not only discouraged from attending school in India, but also suffer from a higher risk of malnutrition.

    “Women don”t receive as much education as the males,” Bostwick said. “They don”t even receive as much nourishment, because it”s seen as more valuable to feed the males.”

    With commitments from FIFA and UNICEF, gender equality in India is improving.

    “It”s a progressing situation,” Bostwick said. “We saw a lot of situations in schools trying to counteract that negative [idea].”

    India is a specific country that UNICEF targets to increase girls equality in education. Phillips said the kits aid one of UNICEF”s primary objectives for India: to increase the attendance of children in primary school.

    “One idea we”re trying to convey, is that when women are educated, the children they bear will be educated,” Phillips said.

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