Commemorating the International Day of the Girl

Marwa, from Syria, in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan
Marwa, from Syria, in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan

Today marks the 10th anniversary of The UN’s International Day of the Girl, which recognises and addresses the human rights challenges faced by girls all around the world.

Together with The Arsenal Foundation, we have been in partnership with Save the Children for almost ten years, constructing football pitches in places such as Iraq, Somalia and Indonesia. But in 2018, our foundation and Save the Children went a step further, to launch a revolutionary sports development programme called Coaching for Life in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

In reaction to the global refugee crisis, this programme blends the foundation's experience, our 35-year experience in delivering community programmes in North London and Save the Children’s expertise in a refugee context. We can then focus on how football can break down barriers and address mental health challenges specific to the Zaatari refugee camp.

Since the Coaching for Life programme began in 2018, the number of girls taking part has doubled. In conversation with some of the girls enrolled, Kim Little and Leah Williamson asked them about their inspirations and shared their own role models.

"You have more strength than you'll ever know," said Leah. "I hope we do inspire you and that we give you joy when you watch us play football, but really, you guys are the real inspiration."

Speaking at Save the Children's Women's Network Lunch on October 11, The Arsenal Foundation Director Mairead King reflected on the journey of the programme so far:

"When we started, girls were not encouraged to play football. But they were curious about what Arsenal were doing in the camp and gradually some girls joined. Our goal was always to have a 50/50 gender split in terms of those attending the programme and a 50/50 gender split in terms of the Syrian coaches who we train. I am happy to report that after 5 years we have achieved on both of those accounts."

"From the start, we have been really passionate about ensuring the girls on the Coaching for Life programme had the support they needed to talk about and speak out about girls' issues and girls' rights," she continued. "One of the most serious challenges girls face in the camp is that of child marriage. Some of the girls, as a result of finding their confidence to speak out, understand their value on and off the pitch and have spoken out on child marriage. In fact, some of the young girls we have met have called off their marriages and now campaign for others to do the same.

"We must ensure these girls continue to feel fully supported by us and we will use our platforms and days like today to talk about and give voice to these incredible girls in Zaatari."

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