African Girl Power: Scoring goals in Togo

by Because I am a Girl

Beneath a mango tree in the village of Kasséna, in the slim, tropical West African nation of Togo, a cluster of elders gathers around a tiny transistor radio. All of a sudden, the men emit a collective cheer and punch the air. The village team has just won the local soccer match – and the players are all girls.

“When they win, you hear the name of our village everywhere on the radio and TV,” smiles Gnoungou Bataya, the village chief. “Nowadays, we’re so proud of our girls.”

Thanks to a ‘Girls in Leadership Through Soccer’ project initiated here by Plan two years ago, girls’ soccer has gradually become more and more popular in this central part of Togo.

Nowadays, village communities eagerly await the local girls’ match schedule. Normally shy teenagers got up and grabbed the microphone, addressing the crowd. Never have village girls in Togo been so vocal or so active; never have their smiles been so wide.

There are now 12 girls’ soccer clubs in Togo with 36 members – consisting of not only girl soccer players, but also girl referees, sports reporters and illustrators. The girls are trained by 24 coaches, 13 of whom are women. Six girls from the project have already passed their exams to be professional district referees. Two girls have been recruited to the capital Lomé and will attend the National Soccer Academy.

“Girls are our power,” says the mother of one 14 year-old soccer players, Kadidja Kadambara. “Thanks to girls’ soccer, we have seen an important government minister visit for the first time ever. That’s amazing – and it’s down to the girls.”

“This project has effectively made our girls love school,” says Bamela Kokou, the headmaster of the local school in Morétan. “They’re so happy to come to school and take part in the soccer club. For two years, the girls in schools nearby have wanted to change to come and enroll in this project. We should encourage this project, to promote and maintain the success of girls in our communities.”

“Plan has created a revolution in local attitudes,” agrees the president of the Parents’ Association in Langabou. “Before this project, no one would have believed that the girls had such talent to give to soccer or that they could talk through a microphone with such confidence to a huge, crazy crowd!"

The point is perhaps most eloquently put by an Imam from the village of Koussountou: “With this soccer project, Plan has managed to change fundamental attitudes towards girls. For the first time, I’ve seen men carry a girl aloft to celebrate her achievements. This is truly a vision of the future.”