Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

KHARTOUM: Within months of Sudan’s first women’s football league kicking off, the championship’s emerging stars are being hailed as icons for equal rights in a country transitioning to civilian rule.

Orjuan Essam, 19, and Rayan Rajab, 22, of Khartoum-based Tahadi women’s club, have scored several goals already in a tournament that would have seemed unlikely when autocrat Omar al-Bashir was in power.

“I was thrilled to see that authoritarian rule was finally turning into civilian and that women’s rights could now be achieved,” said Essam, her long hair flowing freely as she trained at a stadium in the capital. Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa at a meeting in Khartoum in 1957.

But women’s football faced an uphill battle after the country adopted the Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before then-brigadier Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup. Last month the new authorities scrapped a decades-old public order law, which primarily targeted women for “immoral acts”. During the rule of Bashir, thousands of women were flogged or fined under the law.

Today, the launch of women’s club football is seen as a much-needed boost for women’s rights in Sudan. Essam, who plays left midfielder for Tahadi, said the world would now know that Sudanese women are not just “meant for raising children and doing household chores”, adding: “Women’s rights are much more than that”.

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