During the last years, into Gaza strip It has become very popular among young people to play soccer, basketball and handball outdoors, especially with the expansion of public sports clubs. But this popularity is limited to men.
Beit Hanoun is a city in the extreme northeast of the Gaza Strip. The people of the area are mainly engaged in agriculture and livestock. It is considered a very close and conservative community where women and men marry at a young age and girls live with restrictions for the simple fact of being women.
Bissan Al Kafarnah, a 17-year-old refugee from Palestine, together with a group of young women, decided to take the initiative and challenge her context: “It is not about going against society. I want to show my talent playing basketball.”
Two or three times a week, Bissan puts on his basketball kit and trainers for training, “I rarely miss a day of training,” he says. His passion for basketball came at the age of 9. Bissan’s parents were among the first to defend her daughter’s choice to play basketball, despite social pressure from the community. With her encouragement, Bissan worked hard to get a sports scholarship and study medicine in Algeria next year.
The support of her parents did not prevent her from the amount of criticism to which she has been subjected and even attempts to stop her in her goal of living her passions freely. “With less conservative people I try to explain the benefits of sport and with very conservative people I keep quiet because I know I will never change their mentality.”
Bissan plays point guard and has influenced many people around him: “I took three girls, daughters of my neighbors, to play basketball on the team between the ages of 10 and 14 and they all loved it. They had a lot of fun and brought more girls to try.”
In an attempt to normalize the presence of young practicing sport outdoors, Bissan’s trainer, Maha Mohammad, and her colleagues carried out many procedures to adapt to the social environment. One of the biggest concerns of the community was mix boys and girls in one place. “We had to adapt. And to reassure the parents of the girls, we separate boys and girls into different training times and different playgrounds,” says Maha.
At 30 years old, Maha Mohammad is a coach of women’s teams, a refugee from Palestine and has dedicated her whole life to change people’s mentality, the way they see and understand sport and to help the young women of Beit Hanoun develop their sporting talents. She has a degree in sports education and has faced hundreds of criticisms and challenges to be able to study what she was passionate about with the condition of being a woman.
“We launched many campaigns to convince families of the benefits of sending their daughters to play soccer and basketball.” Usually, people can enroll their daughters at young ages, even under 12 years old. Thanks to these signing initiatives talents of great players like Bissan have been discovered.
Bissan is convinced that sport has not only strengthened her body, but also shaped her personality: “I was a shy girl, but playing in leagues and connecting with different people outside the city has allowed me to interact with very different people and make friends”. The more she got to know other communities, the more she wanted to continue playing.
The girls’ schools UNRWA in the city played a fundamental role in the exercise of empowering and convincing the fathers and mothers of the benefits of enrolling their daughters in soccer and basketball. “The directors of the schools of UNRWA they encourage families to send their daughters to us to compete in local school leagues and consider sports as part of their annual achievements for little girls,” says Maha.
The skyrocketing unemployment rates among young women in Gaza, the blocking to which society is subjected and the multiple offensive that the civilian population has endured, leaves the inhabitants of the Strip in a situation of constant trauma. With mental health destroyed, women’s sport in Gaza has become the engine of social change and collective therapy.