The coach and members of Raqqa’s first-ever girls’ football team told of their inspiring journey, symbolising a transformative shift in the city’s mentality, in a recent interview with Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman.
Zaman, a senior correspondent for Al-Monitor, described interviewing Raqqa’s first ever all girls football team as “a rare hopeful moment,” stating that “Many credit the Kurdish led administration for creating space for women & girls in the majority Arab region” and Raqqa, which “was the capital of IS where untold horrors unfolded” less than 6 years ago.
Against the backdrop of a pitch funded by Norwegian donors, the young girls, aged between 10 and 14, are defying the oppressive legacy of the Islamic State (ISIS) and highlighting the progress made in creating a safe and empowering environment for women and girls.
Raqqa’s girls’ soccer team was officially established in June 2022 and has seen a steady increase in membership, with a total of 32 girls joining. The interview revealed that the completion of twin pitches, financed by a private Norwegian initiative, marked a significant milestone for the team, allowing them to start playing earlier this year. The initiative aims to provide these children with joy and a sense of safety, serving as a means to break free from the shadows of the past.
During the interview, the girls’ coach Ahmed Abeid expressed his dedication to supporting their aspirations. Despite limited resources, Abeid has used his personal savings to provide footballs and uniforms for the team.
The progress in Raqqa’s attitude toward women’s empowerment and sports can be attributed in part to the Kurdish-led autonomous administration which governs the region. The administration has prioritised the empowerment of women and the promotion of their participation in various spheres of society. Kurdish-led forces played a crucial role in battling ISIS, and their commitment to gender equality and women’s rights has resonated both locally and internationally.
While challenges remain, including tensions with the Arab-majority population and the struggle to rebuild the war-torn city, the gradual transformation of Raqqa into a more open and inclusive community is underway as the girls’ participation in sports represents open defiance to the remnants of ISIS and a commitment to shaping a brighter future.