Girls’ basketball as a catalyst for change against harmful practices

16 May 2018
UNFPA Regional Director for the Arab States, Dr. Luay Shabaneh presents a trophy to the winning team
UNFPA Regional Director for the Arab States, Dr. Luay Shabaneh presents a trophy to the winning team

Female basketball players in the Puntland State of Somalia continue to raise their voices in support of the campaign towards ending child marriage with financial support from UNFPA Somalia. On 8 May 2018, UNFPA Somalia supported a girls’ basketball match between Garowe City team and Barakacyal Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) team, which took place in Jowle Classic Stadium in Garowe, Puntland State of Somalia.

The players in both teams comprise champions of ending child marriage, victims of child marriages, university and secondary school students as well as IDPs.

Child marriage is prevalent in Somalia at 24 percent, according to the 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS). Available data indicates that the age at first marriage is 15.6 years for girls. The age-specific fertility rate for 15 to 19 year-old girls is 123 per 1,000.

UNFPA Regional Director for the Arab States, Dr. Luay Shabaneh was guest of honor at the basketball game between Garowe and Barakacyal. Speaking before he presented a trophy to the winning team, Barakacyal IDPs team, Dr. Shabaneh said he was impressed with the innovative initiative that Puntland has adopted to campaign for the end of child marriage.

“It is really impressive to see this group of young women who are enjoying playing the game of basketball and at the same time advocating for ending child marriages,” said Dr. Shabaneh.

the players battle it out

UNFPA Somalia Representative Mr. Nikolai Botev and UNFPA Somalia Deputy Representative Mr. Walter Medonca-Filho, who were accompanying the Regional Director on his visit to Somalia, also expressed their satisfaction with the initiative.

According to UNFPA Somalia Youth Analyst Ms. Fatuma Muhumed girls in the Somali society are culturally married off as early as 13 years old. “This has serious health implications such as increased maternal deaths because their reproductive systems are not mature enough to allow normal delivery hence they develop complications such as prolonged and obstructed labour,” said Ms. Muhumed.

The Director General of Ministry of Labour, Youth and Sports in Puntland Mr. Ahmed Abdalle Tigaane expressed his gratitude to UNFPA for providing support to the campaign towards ending child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

“These girls are dedicated to the cause of fighting for the rights of girls. We appreciate the assistance we receive from UNFPA,” said Mr. Tigaane. 

He said it was worth noting that UNFPA Somalia supported a series of matches between various teams of female basket players and that throughout that period, the acceptance of female basketball has increased among the society. “Now girls can open play on fields with large female audiences and their sporting skills and knowledge of human rights has dramatically increased,” said Mr. Tigaane. 

UNFPA team watching the basketball game

Basketball for females is completely a new phenomenon in Somalia as sports for women in the country has been considered a taboo and culturally insensitive since the civil war in 1991. Somalia’s prolonged civil war resulted into a shattered sport infrastructures but also created a difficult environment for female sports and lack of acceptance by certain religious groups who argue that sports is immodest and that Islam does not allow women to play sports or to wear shirts and pants.

Ms. Amino Mohamud, a champion for the End Child Marriage Campaign who also plays basketball is thankful for the initiative.

“When girls marry off early, they usually don’t continue with school because of stigma and discrimination against married girls. The girls who marry early also face the burden of household chores and early child rearing responsibilities. I therefore highly encourage girls not to marry early,” said Ms. Mohamud.

According to Programme officer for Gender, Youth and HIV/AIDS for UNFPA in Puntland Ms. Bahsan Said early marriage and early childbearing, coupled with the nearly universal practice of FGM, are factors that increasing the vulnerability of girls and women and contributing to the high rates of maternal mortality.

“In addition to this, anecdotal studies tells us that child marriages are the leading cause of high drop-out of girls both in secondary and upper primary education,” said Ms. Said.

the winners celebrating their victory

She also said that the girls’ basketball matches are utilised to explore avenues to promote integration of host communities and IDP communities and to ensure that IDPs fully participate in social activities such as sports as well as empower women and girls to become change agents for their families and community at large.

Ms. Said explained that end child marriage campaigns aim at behaviour change focusing on three parameters namely health, social and economic impact on the girls, families and communities.

In addition to the basketball, UNFPA Somalia in collaboration with Puntland Youth Peer Network reached out to thousands of university and high school students using theatre based performance education. Furthermore, theatre teams and sports teams also conducted house-to-house visits to engage communities about the issues.

“It is worth noting, that UNFPA Somalia supported a series of matches among various teams of female basket players, and throughout that period, the acceptance of female basketball has increased among the society, now girls can play open play fields with large female audiences. In addition to this, their sports skills and knowledge of human rights has dramatically increased,” said Ms. Said.



For more information please contact UNFPA Somalia Communications, Partnerships & Donor Relations Specialist Pilirani Semu-Banda on e-mail: