Girl Power: driving female empowerment through football

Unlike many football teams Girl Power, constituted of migrant and refugee women, play and use sport to empower women across the world. Born out of the need to help refugees on inclusion processes, today, they are playing to transform the world at the United Nation's first ever women's amateur football world cup in Copenhagen, Denmark.[/intro_paragraph]

The international event is being held at the same time that the city hosts the Women Deliver Conference (16 and 19 May), focused on discussing how women and girls are best included in global development, and aims to both promote the UN 17 Global Goals and everyone's right to play.

A total of 24 teams composed of women from all ages and backgrounds will play for one of the 17 Global Goals and celebrate sport's power to change the world. Backed by Fare, Girl Power will play for goal number 10, reducing inequalities, building on their work to empower women through sport.

The team is constituted of eight players from migrant backgrounds who work across Europe in refugee centres promoting sporting and cultural activities for refugees and asylum seekers. Over the last few years, they have travelled in Europe to encourage the inclusion of refugee and migrant women in their hosting countries.

Playing as a role model
Founded in 2014 by Khalida Popal the organisation offers sporting activities, including football, running, swimming, cycling and fitness, to refugee and migrant women to help them build their confidence, share health lifestyles, break stereotypes and help include them in their new countries. It was Khalid's experiences as a refugee what triggered Girl Power.

"Most of those refugee and migrant women, who are living in Europe, come from conservative cultures and in those sport activities are not popular among women.

"You feel so lonely and so unhappy in an asylum camp,

"Women there often don't have any opportunities, so I encourage them to come fight stress and depression by playing football." she explained.

In 2011, Khalida Popal fled Afghanistan for death threats after years spent as an outspoken advocate for women's rights and a founding member of Afghanistan's first women's national soccer team.

"I faced so many death threats and warnings that I had to stop my activities for women – otherwise, they said they would kill me and my family," she recalled.

Khalida lived in asylum centres in Norway and Denmark until she settled in Copenhagen in 2012, where she put into practice her plan to promote sport among refugee women.

"I wanted to use my own experience and sporting skills, together with other girls who are willing to work with refugees, to bring this culture of sports to those women" she explained.

With the support of the Danish athletic company that designed special uniforms for Khalida's team in Afghanistan, Hummel, Girl Power's founder was able to seek asylum in Denmark and start her business studies.

The football team came later to serve as role model for refugee women and quickly attracted enthusiasts across Europe.

Shabnam Mobarezs, 20, has been playing football for six years and is currently the coach of one of the refugee teams Girl Power supports in Denmark.

"My love and passion for football started when I came to Denmark from Afghanistan as an immigrant back in 2003.

"Throughout the years, I have visited many countries where I have been able to interact with the people that admire football. Most of them are young girls with a similar dream. I see the thrill and emotions each uphold as they speak of their aspirations and it reminds me of where I have come from.

"I hope that I can inspire them, not just for a future in football but as a lesson that hard work, dedication, and a little hope goes a long way."

Playing for Girl Power since 2014 Roya Noori shares the same goal. Currently studying nursing in Stockholm, Sweden, Roya has been a football coach at refugee centres since 2013. She is currently coaching mixed teams with boys and girls from different asylum centres and of different ages. She also plays for the Swedish club Reymersholms IK.

"Football means a lot to me. It is key to bring joy and happiness to people's lives, it is key to bring joy to refugees' lives when they are tired of waiting around in asylum centres" she said.

At the tournament Girl Power will play three games and a friendly against a team of asylum women from refugee centres in Denmark.

If they win, they will be given the chance to take their goals to New York when the Global Goals final, taking place during the UN General assembly in September 2016, and further their work to ensure equal rights for all.

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