Sisterhood FC founder Yasmin is on a mission to make sure more Muslim women get involved with football. As part of the adidas Breaking Barriers campaign, Yasmin talks to Stylist about why this is so important.
Escaping the civil war in Somalia, Yasmin was just nine years old when she moved to the UK with her family. Although her father had been a professional footballer for their local town’s team, Yasmin had no access to sports or even to education in her home country because of the unrest.
But things were then different - if somewhat confusing - in England, where she was told to get changed and take part in her first ever PE lesson at her new school. Although adjusting to a new life and learning another language was a struggle, Yasmin surprised teachers as she quickly proved herself to be a promising football player. It’s pretty much in her DNA, after all.
She soon joined the school’s girls’ team and continued to compete in matches until it was time to start university in Cambridge.
“I just felt very out of place,” explains Yasmin, reflecting on being a Muslim sportswoman in the predominately white, middle-class British university city. “I’m used to the diversity in London, with people from all different types of places. So, I couldn’t really relate to them, I couldn’t banter with them. When you’re a uni student, you’re broke, yeah? But in my first year I remember I went and bought shin pads, football socks, boots and everything – and then it was really disappointing.”
A recent government report found that disadvantaged students were more likely (8.8%) to drop out of university in their first year than their advantaged peers (6%). So, it’s perhaps understandable that Yasmin dropped out to start another course in London where she felt more encouraged.
After joining Goldsmiths, she joined the women’s football team, which was an “amazing” experience. But, once again, Yasmin faced similar barriers that she experienced because of being a sportsperson who wears a hijab.
“I loved all the girls but, because I’m Muslim, if we had a match or training or whatever, the initial meeting point for everyone to just talk and chill and stuff would be at the pub - like, all the time. Because I wear my headscarf, there were certain things I just couldn’t do. The hijab is like a whole identity, so it comes with certain rules. I felt like I was trying to practice my religion a bit more seriously but being in that environment wasn’t going to help me.”
It was thanks to what happened at a Ramadan event run by her university that Yasmin had an idea on how to make football more inclusive for herself and other Muslim women. After meeting a group of girls there, they were surprised to learn that she played on the football team – because of her headscarf. They then asked Yasmin if she could start up and coach a team specifically for hijab-wearing women, and so Sisterhood FC was born. She now manages 40 Muslim football players and has created a space for them to confidently play while wearing the hijab.
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The global excitement around the recent Women’s World Cup proved that the female game needs more coverage, investment and support.
A record-breaking peak TV audience of 11.7 million people tuned in to watch England’s quarter-final match against USA, making it the most-watched television programme of the year so far. The same game night was also reportedly the “busiest night of the year” for London pubs.
“Imagine if there was more investment or belief in women’s sports from ages ago, yeah? Just imagine where we would be now,” adds Yasmin. “I’m so glad that at least they recognise it now.”
But she describes the absence of a hijab-wearing football player on the pitch during the whole tournament as being “unacceptable”. In 2007, FIFA banned the hijab. Over the next seven years it proceeded to lift the ban, before reinforcing it, and then tentatively amending it once again – alienating thousands of girls and women from football in the process. The ban was permanently lifted in March 2014.
“I would like to think that we’ve made progress,” adds Yasmin. “But there wasn’t one player who wore the hijab in any of the teams. So I don’t know if we’re at the point where Muslim girls have been disregarded by platforms like FIFA. It’s just bad to see that.”
She argues that just because FIFA “preaches inclusivity” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are practising it by encouraging more Muslin women onto the pitch. Finding the first hijab-wearing Women’s World Cup football player is one of the main reasons why Yasmin is so dedicated to developing and expanding Sisterhood FC.
“I’m a black Muslim woman. All those three things combined is a lot to deal with in this society,” she explains. “So with Sisterhood FC, I want to make a platform to inspire women in football, to encourage different girls from local areas who wear hijabs.
“I want to see Muslim women being prioritised - because we are a minority within a minority, and another minority - so I want to let young girls know that wearing a hijab doesn’t limit your abilities or your talent. You can get involved in football or any other sport.
“I want to get the ball rolling and start putting together a team for my national team back home [in Somali, which currently doesn’t have a qualifying team] but also to find the first Muslim hijab-wearing girl to play for any team, you’ know? Under 12s or under 16s… I want to find that girl and inspire her and support her and help make that dream come true.”
The ways things are going with Sisterhood FC, this could very well be a reality for the next Women’s World Cup in 2023. And small but significant steps are being made elsewhere in women’s sport.
Brunel University has included the hijab in their sports kit. Nike became the first major sports brand to unveil a hijab in 2017. And Muslim sportswomen are using Instagram to successfully influence others, including Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and basketball player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir.
So, what are Yasmin’s next steps with Sisterhood FC to ensure the first hijab-wearing girl finds her feet firmly on the international pitch?
“Everything now is based in South London, so now what I want to do is expand it,” she excitedly shares, explaining that West London is next on her radar. “Then [I] basically [want to] make it a franchise, so that we have one in different areas and all the girls can take advantage of it.
“In today’s age, things like this should be accessible to young people because there’s much worse stuff that they could be doing. We have stuff like obesity, mental health – all these things, and them coming to a team or club, it’s more than us coming about to kick a football.
“We celebrate people’s birthdays together, celebrate people’s graduations together, everyone chips in. If anyone’s going through anything we make it easy for them to have someone to talk to. It’s football but it’s more than football. The difference that it makes is huge.”
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Images: Alice Mann/INSTITUTE for the adidas Breaking Barriers commission
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…