Author (standing, first from left) with Ethiopia’s national women’s team. National Stadium, Addis Ababa, 2011. Photo: Saavedra.
By Martha Saavedra
Martha Saavedra is Associate Director of the Center for African Studies at the University of California Berkeley. Trained as a Political Scientist, she has taught at St. Mary’s College of California, UC Berkeley, Ohio University and the Escuela de Estudios Universitarios Real Madrid. Her research has ranged from agrarian politics, development and ethnic conflict in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan to gender and sport in Africa to a collaborative project on representations of Africa in Chinese popular culture. She has been on the editorial boards of Soccer and Society; Sport in Society; and Impumelelo: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Sports in Africa. A veteran of Title IX battles, she has played soccer for over 30 years and coached boys teams for 12 years.
On Tuesday at the University of California, Berkeley, I attended a panel discussion on Gender for a New Century: Countering Violence and Social Exclusions. The panel focused on important issues that the international community will be addressing in 2015 via United Nations’ assessments of efforts derived from the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action frameworks. Faculty from UCB raised a number of really important topics including transnational labor markets, migration, sustainability, water & sanitation, disability rights, 2+ genders systems, culturally embedded gender-based violence, economic policy implications, nationalism and education. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women, the featured speaker, responded to these points and suggested how gender might be addressed given the convergence at the UN of post-2015 MDG and Beijing 20+ discussions. It was an invigorating discussion setting out important aspirations, points of leverage, and boundaries for upcoming high level and impactful debates. Yet, nary was intimated about sport, physical activity, or, that all important endeavor, football.
Earlier that day in the office, before the gender event, a couple of us watched the United Nations sponsored ‘Africa United’ videos on youtube featuring Idris Elba as well as Carlton Cole, Yaya Touré, Andros Townsend, Patrick Vieira, Kei Kamara and Fabrice Muamba. (Also dubbed in Krio and French.) You’ve got to watch them if you love football, and ‘007 Idris, and if you are at all involved in efforts to confront the fears, misconceptions and realities of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Idris says “Its key strength is passing.” How can you not believe? “We are not heroes.” The health workers – “you are the true heroes”. The world’s most important team. Kudos to them. Not much to argue with there. But, of course, the UN does not call upon women footballers to help carry this message.