Thursday, February 2

She’s Cut Her Hair: Pakistani Women’s Difficulties Playing Cricket

Bisma Amjad plays cricket. She aspires to play internationally and was chosen for the Pakistani Under 19 Cricket World Cup squad. However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as she was a woman, there was nowhere to practice, so she dressed as a man to compete with the male cricketers in “gully cricket”, a street variant.

“The boys used to play gully-cricket, even during the pandemic,” he explains. “But the movement of the girls was restricted, so we couldn’t play. I had no choice but to dress as a man and practice with them,” says Amjad, 19, who has played in top-flight and regional matches.

In traditional circles in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, Amjad constantly hears comments like “your skin will get darker” or “it’s a boy’s game and you’re wasting your time. Take a course that will help you after marriage.” .

She explains that many girls from conservative families or from rural areas dress like boys so they can play cricket and go unnoticed. “A friend of mine has cut her hair so she can go play without being seen as a girl,” says Amjad. “Women who play sports face many difficulties in our society,” she adds.

“What happened to it?”

Amjad’s father supported her and took her to matches, but when the man fell ill, the young woman had to stop playing for a few months. “When my father recovered and I got his approval, I learned to ride a bike so I could get around on my own,” she says.

Cycling brought additional problems: “Men said ‘Look, look, she’s riding a bike.’ She used to wear a headscarf, what happened to her?”

“I give my savings to my parents to prove that I make some money. I tell them to give me a few more months and I’ll prove it,” he explains, fiddling with a cricket ball. His parents have now given him a year to make the national team or quit cricket.

Amjad was picked for the Pakistan U-19 squad that was going to play the World Cup in 2021 but it was canceled due to the pandemic and now she has to keep playing top-class cricket to have any hope of breaking into the national team. .

Looking for opportunities

Cricket is the most practiced and watched sport in Pakistan, but not women’s. This Thursday started the seventh season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) for men’s cricket, which will last until February 27, and the expectation was high. The league hosts six teams from different parts of Pakistan and promotes cricket, helps male players earn a living and a spot on the national team.

Waiting for women’s league

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has yet to come up with a schedule for the women’s league that it had promised three years ago. Its president, Ramiz Raja, has confirmed that there will be.

The news has cheered the captain of Pakistani women’s cricket, Javeria Khan. “This is very positive news as it will encourage more women to play cricket,” she says, adding: “Men have many such tournaments where they can show their talent, but women don’t have such opportunities.” .

“Here, a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to show her talent,” she says. “Gender discrimination exists all over the world, but in Asia the problem is more serious.”

Khan says that when the PCB started working on the structure of women’s cricket, players started getting contracts. “Incentives in the profession attract investment. The PCB has been doing talent scouting programs and sending teams around the country,” he says.

Family support

Khan considers herself lucky to have had the support of her family despite coming from a rural area, Torghar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She explains that her father was proud of her and “used to inform the people of her town when my game was going to be played. They heard it on the radio.”

“All families should support their daughters in playing cricket and other sports,” he says. “The mentality of society is a huge obstacle, but we can combat it with education,” she says.

secret classes

Asfa Hussain, 16, an emerging talent from Karachi, hid his love of cricket from his father. Her mother used to drive her to and from the cricket academy in secret. “When my father finally found out, he was very angry. It was my mother who convinced him to give me a chance to prove myself,” says Hussain.

“The moment I was selected for a trial for the Under 17 Championship made my father very proud. I am lucky to have the support of my father and mother, who are at my expense. the regional teams pay us less and the clubs don’t pay us,” he says.

Hussain played for the club that won the Sindh provincial championship last year. He explains that it is an expensive game: you have to take care of your diet, transportation, the gym and also buy the best equipment if you are a hitter.

“The PCB has to give incentives to female players. Men’s cricket is broadcast on television, women’s is not,” he says.

“When women’s cricket is widely covered on television, then we can fight against the stereotypes that exist. We will also start to get sponsors,” he says.

No optimistic outlook

Hussain played alongside the boys at her school and says the state needs to invest in girls’ cricket in schools. Khan agrees: “Our main problem is getting the grassroots to play cricket and once we’ve scouted talent in schools, these players can be nurtured and trained.”

In 2020, the PCB allocated 5.5% of its budget to women’s cricket and 19.3% to men’s international cricket. In 2016, Bismah Maroof, a former Pakistani women’s cricket captain, raised the issue of the significant gender pay gap with the PCB after it was discovered that the country’s male cricketers earned the equivalent of almost $77,000 (69,175 euros) a year, while their female counterparts only earned $12,000 (10,780 euros).

However, the PCB refused to answer questions about pay and the evolution of women’s cricket when the newspaper Guardian contacted them.

Najam Sethi, former PCB President, says: “Even families in cities are not willing to let their daughters play professional sport, let alone families in rural areas. Now that school cricket is disappearing, [por] scarcity of land and expense, the prospects for women in sport are not rosy.

Translation of Emma Reverter