Football helps promote gender equality, unity in diversity on International Day of Sports for Development and Peace

UNMISS south sudan gender equality youth women peace security sports peacebuilding juba

April 6 is annually observed as International Day of Sports for Development and Peace. In Juba, South Sudan, this Day saw two talented women's football teams put up a thrilling show for spectators, shattering gender stereotypes and shining bright as a beacon for unity, peace and equality. Photo by Nektarios Markogiannis/UNMISS

8 Apr 2022

Football helps promote gender equality, unity in diversity on International Day of Sports for Development and Peace

James Sokiri

JUBA – In South Sudan, a country slowly but surely transitioning from war to peace, this week’s International Day of Sports for Development and Peace had an added dimension, as citizens in this young nation’s capital, Juba, enjoyed an action-packed football match between two all-women teams, who displayed their skills as they competed for a glittering trophy at the Buluk Football Playground.

The fiercely contested match, played between the Al-Merikh and Munuki football clubs, closed the first half without a score, with Munuki scoring its first goal approximately 20 minutes into the second half.

Further battle ensued with the Al-Merikh players equalizing the score some 15 minutes before the game was due to end.

With a tie between teams when the 90 minutes clocked, an extra three minutes were awarded by the referee.

And that’s when the competition soared to a fever pitch as the Munuki team slammed the definitive goal through the posts of the opposing team.

“Today’s game was tough and both teams gave it their all. It was a great fight,” said Emmy Lasu, a 26-year-old mid-fielder and captain of the Al-Merikh ensemble. 

“Though we lost the game, I think players from both sides won the hearts of people and showed that women’s football is growing in popularity. Congratulations to all the Munuki players. This is football, you either win or lose, but you fight it out till the last second as one team,” she added.

The articulate young footballer further called for support for women and their talents.

“Those who believe that women cannot play football should have been here today to witness for themselves the beautiful potential both teams displayed on the pitch,” stated Emmy, adding that football should be used as a symbol of national identity across South Sudan.

“Football unites people because it promotes coexistence and teamwork. Football and sports in general can be embraced by all South Sudanese. It will go a long way in building peace across our country,” she said emphatically.

In future, Emmy, who started playing football at the tender age of seven in neighbouring Kenya, aims to open a football academy of her own to nurture potential young talent to help place South Sudan’s flag on the world stage. “Let us support, encourage, and motivate women and girls because football is not only an entertaining sport, but it helps build self-reliance,” she advised.

For 25-year-old Tito Taban, the winning team’s coach, joy was in the air following his team’s winning goal. “When the match first started, I was worried because Al Merikh is a very strong team, but I am delighted that our players are bringing the trophy home to the Munuki football club,” he said beaming.

Tito, as a man coaching a women’s football, believes in the power of the game to shatter gender stereotypes.

“We need to break out of outmoded thinking which keeps women one step behind. Women and girls can do anything they put their minds to, whether it is playing football, pursuing an education, or flying airplanes,” stated this young gender champion passionately.

Edward Settimo, Director General, National Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports reflected on the importance of the Day.  

“This Day allows us to promote sports as a universal language that encourages social inclusion, youth development and sustainable peace,” said Mr. Settimo, addressing both spectators and the players. “It also provides a strong platform to advocate for governments to invest in sports, related infrastructure, as well as in quality physical education.”

The game, organized by the United Nations Association of South Sudan, a nongovernmental organization and co-funded by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan [UNMISS], was played under the theme, ‘The contribution of sports to security a peaceful and sustainable future for youth.’