Play Like a Girl
Let us imagine a school that restricts the subjects one could take based on their genders.
A school, where girls are not allowed to opt for Math or Physics because they are the more "masculine" subjects and the only way to access restricted subjects was through extra tuition in their own time and expenses, after school.
As absurd as it sounds, this is the reality for many girls when it comes to Physical Education (PE) or Sports classes in many schools. When it comes to accessing training to become skilled in sports or activities in PE classes, girls are usually left behind.
Often, their playtimes are completely cancelled after they've reached a certain grade, with little to no regard for their possible aspirations.
"Up until grade 6 we had a games class where we would go outside to play either football or handball. But in grade 7, that class was substituted for sewing classes strictly in the girls' buildings. The boys still had a designated period for sports. This was incredibly unfair as I remember no one in my class wanted to give up sports for sewing as no one was really interested in the latter," Fatima Jahan Ena, a former student of Maple Leaf International School shared.
Many girls we spoke to believe they are not treated equally to their male peers in settings where everyone is supposed to be given equal opportunities. They talked about how they wanted to participate in the same activities as their male classmates, but their teachers told them they couldn't because it was "meant for males" or "because you're a girl" or "because it's not on the schedule."
"We weren't allowed to play out in the field after grade 4, the girls would be asked to sit in class while the boys went out to play," described Mithi Munzeleen Sarwar, who studied in Marie Curie School.
She adds, "We weren't allowed to wear the sports uniform either because girls were not allowed to wear shorts."
Sabrina Ahmed*, a former student from Sunnydale School, spoke about how she never even had the chance to explore her interest in sports, since, from a very young age she was not given the same opportunities as her male peers.
Something as fundamental as sports should not be subjected to unnecessary gender roles. Sports encourage good health, leadership abilities, teamwork, self-reliance, and continuous learning. One should not be deprived of it based on their gender. The area of participation in sports becomes problematic when schools fall into the habit of providing "girls sports" or "boys sports", and when they encourage boys over girls.
Teachers have the ability to affect how students perceive the world around them through their lessons and classroom behaviour. This is a privilege that should be made use of.
Farzeen Ghani, a recent A Level graduate, stated, "I was not allowed to play with the boys and the fact that I even wanted to participate in sports got me bullied." Since childhood, she has been subjected to a great deal of discrimination as a result of her participation in sports.
With no support from school, and no girls' team to participate in, Farzeen only had herself to help her pursue her passion for basketball.
"I would go to Gulshan Club after school every day with my basketball, sit and watch other people play. I didn't have the confidence to go and play with them, or even, in front of them. When I would come back home, I would watch YouTube videos and teach myself," Farzeen recalled. She did everything she could to hold on to her love for basketball, despite not having a proper coach.
Ultimately, Farzeen overcame the societal pressures that continually hindered her from playing, and is now a part of Deshi Ballers, which works to create a safe space for female athletes all around Bangladesh.
Farzeen's perseverance was ultimately rewarded with opportunities, including the opportunity to be trained under Ruthie Bolton, an Olympic gold medallist, the opportunity to attend a mentoring program hosted by ESPN, and even play with the national basketball team. However, it is important to note that most girls do not receive the same privilege, even if they try and persevere.
"No girl should be told she can't play a sport just because of her gender. Something needs to change because girls are missing out on opportunities that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Playing sports in this country for young girls and women should be a right, not a privilege," Farzeen urged.
Terrible PE experiences are a common occurrence among girls. A startling number of girls shared similar stories of being made to feel uncomfortable, of not being allowed to try the same activities as males, of being bullied, or being made to feel inferior was prevalent in each story. They have all, in one way or another, been made to feel like there's no point in trying or pursuing their interests further.
It has become impossible to overlook the roles many schools have played as, both, gatekeepers of physical opportunities, and advocates of restrictive gender standards. Schools and instructors must critically examine the environment they are harbouring, and the lessons they are giving through their actions, in order to bring about change that is much required.
*Name has been changed upon request.
All Nashrah cares about is smashing the patriarchy. Help her at email@example.com