19 DECEMBER 2015

Cricket seems like an odd place to start a women’s rights movement. Yet recently cricket has been helping to raise awareness about the need for greater gender equality.  This week, The Times reported that female street cricketers in Pakistan are using the sport to smash gender boundaries as part of a movement called #GirlsaAtDhabas. While Warriors, the documentary film about the first ever Maasai cricket team released Friday 13th, addresses how the Maasai are using the sport to challenge some of their own cultural practice including FGM.

As a cricket fan Warriors is a dream to watch and as a supporter of Plan International’s global campaign, ‘Because I am a Girl’, I also found it inspiring.  Our campaign aims to create a world that promotes girls’ rights and end injustice through support for education, awareness about sexual violence and practices such as FGM.  We work in 68 countries and Kenya is one of the countries we work in with this campaign. Shockingly, in Africa 101 million girls aged 10 and over have been subjected to FGM and a further 3 million are at risk in the continent.

The documentary captures common attitudes towards FGM, as we follow the Massai team to their game at Lords for the Last Man Stands World Championship.

When we meet the Maasai cricket team and their South African female coach, we also see community elders debating the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which they describe as  a ‘mark of transition from childhood to adulthood’.  We hear how this must happen in order for girls (often considered inferior to the boys in her community) to marry.

Yet we also hear the inspiring voices of the Maasai cricket team challenging these traditions. The Warriors cricket team are drawn from communities and villages and they aim to help spread the message that FGM must end. As one player says, ‘these traditions are very wrong, but we never had a voice – then we discovered cricket!’

The impact of FGM on women is devastating.  Sadly, 130 million girls and women have already undergone FGM which increases their chances of complications during childbirth, infections and experience psychological damage.

Giving girls and communities a voice to end FGM is something Plan understands as crucial to its work.  We know this works best when– women, men, boys and girls – are aware of and understand its harmful consequences.  So far, we’ve campaigned to ensure that 44 communities  have publicly declared they are abandoning FGM. Over the next five year’s we’re targeting a further 175,000 girls and young women with education and awareness projects on this very issue.

Echoing the Massai Warrior team in the documentary, we recognise that working with communities doesn’t mean dictating to them that they must abandon everything that’s gone before. As one Maasai player put it, “We don’t have to change all the other good culture, we just are trying to eliminate the bad culture and some practices.”

We know that sport has the power to help change communities for the better.  We’ve recently embarked on a new partnership with Chelsea Football club which aims to ensure children, especially girls, in some of the poorest communities reach their full potential.  Visit the Plan UK website to find out more about how you can support our campaign ‘Because I am a Girl’ and to help us end FGM by 2030.

To find out more about Plan, visit www.plan-uk.org

The documentary Warriors is being screened across the UK now. Find out where you can see it here.

Anna Kharbanda, Senior Media Officer at Plan UKABOUT AUTHOR 

Anna Kharbanda is Senior Media Officer at Plan UK. Anna works on humanitarian disasters and is a supporter of Plan’s campaign, Because I am a Girl.