A secondary school student in Karachi, Pakistan, Khansa is a shy, brilliant girl who often hesitates to speak in front of others. But don’t let her reticence fool you. This 16 year old has found her voice and she’s using it to vocalize her opposition to early marriage.
Khansa is bravely, standing up for her rights by refusing to drop out of school to be married.
Khansa joined Generation Amazing, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s Football for Development program that is being implemented by Right To Play in Pakistan. As she played sports and games with the other girls, Khansa’s confidence grew and she began to recognize her own potential. Through the support of her peers and mentors, she realized that her opinion matters, that she could have a say in her life, that she could decide when to get married and that she could choose to stay in school and become an educated young woman.
“Through football, I learned that no matter who you are, whether you are a boy or girl, you have a voice that can be heard,” says Khansa. “Play taught me that I can make a difference in my life.”
Standing up for herself wasn’t easy. Many families living in conservative communities in Pakistan follow the tradition of early marriage—21 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18. In some countries, girls as young as seven or eight are forced by their families to marry much older men, believing that through marriage, they are protecting their daughters and increasing their economic opportunities. Khansa doesn’t want to grow up to become one of these women.
Early marriage could expose her to increased health problems and violence, deny her access to social networks and support systems and perpetuate a cycle of poverty and gender inequality. It would mean dropping out of school, giving up her dream to attend university and never playing football again.
“I knew that once I was married, there would be no chance of an education and sports,” says Khansa. “My cousins are living examples of this.”
But Khansa and her teammates are challenging the status quo. For the past year, they’ve been meeting each week to practice dribbling, drop kicks, passing and running drills. The program’s coaches, all trained in Right To Play’s play-based, child-centered learning approach, use these drills to teach them social skills like confidence, self-esteem and courage, and to create awareness about children’s rights and gender equality, while motivating the girls to participate.
“I love playing football and I am learning so many things,” says Khansa. “My parents got very angry and tried to force me to agree to the marriage proposal happily,” says Khansa. “They said I had to get married so why not now.
I told my father, ‘I am too young to marry.’”
Khansa stood her ground, even when her fiancé’s parents expressed their anger at her rebellion. The life skills she’d learned through play, empowered her to value herself, advocate for her rights, share her opinion and insist on delaying her marriage until after she finished school. Eventually, Khansa’s parents and her fiancé’s parents conceded.
“I feel proud,” says Khansa, who, after months of articulating her passion for her education and future was overwhelmed with relief when her parents agreed to her wishes. “I am happy that I can play and I can complete my education. It’s also a ray of hope that I might get to acquire a higher education after school.”
“This is the best time of my life,” she adds. “I am chasing my dreams.”
*Statistic, courtesy of UNICEF
Story by Adriana Ermter
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy is the authority responsible for the delivery of the required infrastructure and host country planning and operations for Qatar to host an amazing and historic 2022 FIFA World Cup™ which accelerates progress towards achieving national development goals and creates a lasting legacy for Qatar, the Middle East, Asia and the world.