The New Times (Kigali)

23 January 2013

Rwanda: Football Knows No Gender - Félicité Rwemalika

Be the change that you wish to see in the world goes Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's famous quote.

Félicité Rwemalika, President of Women Commission of Football in the National Football Federation (ferwafa), believes that women have the power to change the sports fraternity.

In an exclusive interview with Women Today, the 54 year old Rwemalika narrated the journey of women's football in Rwanda and their aspirations.

"Bringing change to society is a process, especially when it comes to female sports. Although we still lack the financial support to promote women in sports, we have at least moved from 0per cent to 60 per cent in terms of the participation of women in sports. We are lucky that the current Minister of Sports and Culture is gender sensitive, he is promoting women's football," Rwemalika says.

She also adds that the main constraint is that when women are playing football, most of the spectators are male and this hinders the development of women sports.

She says, "It's not just the women at the grassroots who don't show up to support women in sports but also women in high positions. They don't come to support women when there is a tournament. I believe if they also took part and came to cheer for these women, then it would be easier to answer questions like why women footballers do not get the same rights as men. For instance, women parliamentarians could start advocating for women regional tournaments like the men."

"I encourage young girls to take interest in the sport because football is a sport like any other. That mentality that their muscles will harden like men's should not be a reason to hinder their interest. I have seen many footballers who have maintained their feminine figure," she states.

She further notes that some women also have a role in downplaying women participation in sports.

"We have carried out several trainings and workshops in various communities to sensitise women on the benefits of sports. For example, we had to talk to female teachers in rural areas to let girls play football instead of sending them home while the boys trained and this has paid off. We have several talented football players in both primary and secondary schools," she expresses.

Rwemalika is also the founder of the Association of Kigali Women Football (AKWOS), which spearheads the promotion of local women referees and coaches as a way of upholding women in sports.

AKWOS was founded in 1997 with the aim of reaching out to women through football but it attained its legal status in 2001. It also administered the establishment of the National Women Football league in 2008.

"I was inspired to advocate for women sports after failing to participate in football. I always escorted my father to training sessions as a little girl and enjoyed watching him play, but my mother had warned me never to raise my leg to kick a ball. This is why I decided to promote the sport so as to encourage young girls that have the chance to play," Rwemalika reveals.

The joyous mother has been married for the last 31 years to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Rwema and they are blessed with a son and three daughters.

When asked if any of her daughters plays football she says, "They do other kinds of sports like volleyball and swimming and they are independent when choosing the sport they are interested in."

She spends her leisure time doing aerobics and watching football.

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