Meet this Epic Girls' Football League Thriving in Pakistan's North

Maryam Rehman | Toronto, Canada There are many Pakistanis who are making great strides for gender equality and women empowerment in various ways around the country. When we were in Pakistan this year, we got a chance to meet and connect with incredible individuals from the Punjab, South Punjab and Kashmir regions of the country who are doing work for these causes. We would love to visit other parts of the country as well, and meet all the other people who are doing work for these causes. However, the power of social media gives us the ability to share these amazing stories even without visiting those places in-person. The story we are going to share with you in this article, takes us to the North of Pakistan, in a little village called Shimsal, Gilgit-Balistan. Two sisters from this village, Sumaira and Karishma Inayat, started a football league there, which has been empowering girls in the region to pursue football, and help them find a purpose in life. “The main problem in my village is that when girls are 18-19, and when their parents aren’t able to get them educated or pay their fees, they think it’s a good idea to get them married so their husband can manage the rest of their life. We want this to be finished. We want to give them a purpose. Some can get admission to university on sports scholarships Instead of getting girls married at early ages we should be giving them a platform to do more, a platform where they can show off their hidden talents.” Karishma said in an interview for the Guardian. Their family moved to Lahore from Shimsal, where the girls' dad worked, and where they completed their education. Their football journey began after their Dad showed them a football stadium, and encouraged them to work hard so that they could represent their country one day. "We started playing football in 2012 and became the first shimshali sisters to represent Pakistan at an International tournament. Considering the relative sad status of women in our country and back home, we decided to take a step and do something for them. That was when we worked on a small club in Shimshal and when it was stable we introduced this league Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League. We want to involve as many girls as we can. We invited 8 teams from different villages of the north last year and the league went quite great!! We want to bring back the sport in our country and this is our contribution to it." Sumaira told us. One of the biggest issues that they face, is the lack of funding that is available to do such projects. "After the ban on our federation by FIFA, people lost hope and Pakistanis are a little unaware of women’s still playing football so finding good sponsors for the tournament is a big issue here," said Sumaira. However, they hope to host another tournament and find more sponsors who will be able to support their initiative. Reach out to the girls on social media (we have included them below), if you are interested in being a sponsor! PHOTOS BY KARISHMA INAYAT These girls are an incredible example of what can be achieved, if one believes in themself, and pursues their passion. These girls have been featured in the media internationally, from National Geographic, to The Guardian, and they are a ray of light not only in Pakistan, but around the world. Find out more about their work on Sumaira and Karishma's social media, as well as the Gilgit-Baltistan Girls' Football League's pages. Instagram: @play.gbfl @Karishmainayat @inayat_sumaira

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© 2020 by Maryam and Nivaal Rehman