Impact Stories 17th September, 2021

The Machhrauli Girls: Kicking Out Gender Norms.

What would you say if you saw girls playing football in a state which has historically had one of the lowest sex ratios in the country? Heartwarming, right? With role models like the Phogat sisters and Sakshi Malik, are we seeing more and more girls playing sports in Haryana? We’d say yes, based on what we’re witnessing in Machhrauli, a village in Jhajjar district of Haryana. 

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. While the idea of girls playing sports has been gaining more and more credibility, patriarchy continues to dominate. For girls, the freedom to play sports is always at the risk of being taken back and is littered with conditions. But these ‘conditions’ aren’t set in stone; they can be confronted, negotiated with and ultimately removed. How do we know this? Through the story of the girls of Machhrauli and their journey of starting to play football. 

These girls are members of Breakthrough’s Taaron Ki Toli (TKT) programme, a gender equity curriculum for adolescents which we run in the village school. The curriculum helps young people recognise and understand gender based dicrimination and violence and also equips them with life skills to be able to fight gender discrimination and violence in their lives and around them. We’re thrilled to see how girls have used their learnings from this programme to negotiate for their rights and even their peers!

Lekha (name changed), who is currently in class 10, started playing football when she was in class 6th and joined TKT in class 7. After joining TKT and understanding gender discrimination, Lekha has begun to change a lot of things in her life. And all of it through conversations with her family and other people in the community. From convincing her parents to cut her hair short and not stop her from wearing trousers, to negotiating for early morning runs with her cousin instead of her younger brother (who was sent along to ‘protect’ her), Lekha has been slowly building up to her dream of playing football. And it doesn’t stop at Lekha – the cousin who started going for runs with her now plays football too! Lekha has played and won medals at the district level and now all those voices in the community that were against her choices are slowly turning in favour of her, with her family being the strongest voice of support. 

The girls from Machhrauli getting ready to play!

Seeing other girls like Lekha start to play football in her village, Neetika (name changed) also wanted to play. But she was scared. Her learnings from TKT helped her gather courage to go and talk to her father who was also a teacher. Her father understood and agreed. But, through her mother, her grandmother also heard and opposed the decision, asking about who would marry the girl if she started looking like a boy! Neetika was disheartened but not defeated. She spoke to her uncle, who then in turn convinced her grandmother. Because of all these small negotiations and conversations, today Neetika gets to play football! 

She also talked about how before this, girls and boys used to have to play separately. However, since the sports teacher was also a part of Taaron Ki Toli along with the students, he understood the importance of girls and boys having healthy interactions with each other. So he led the way in ensuring that the boys and girls got to play together! 

Just like Neetika and Lekha, several other girls in Machhrauli village have used what they learned from Taaron Ki Toli to talk to their families and communities, negotiate for their rights and make their dream of playing football come true. They have pushed through the noise of statements like “Who will marry her if she looks like a boy or if she gets injured?” and “What if something happens when she goes out?” And, now these girls are unstoppable. They are questioning and changing things in their lives and around them. Questions like: Why are girls given less food? Why is the birth of a girl child not celebrated? Why can’t we also wear shorts and go to the field like boys? 

Their minds are buzzing with these questions and they are challenging each of these forms of discrimination – one conversation at a time. This is what change looks like! 

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