Updated: Mar 9
Basketball players in Somalia defy the cultural notion that women should not play sports.
It is an honor to finally announce that, with all the support and purchases from our Hooper Family, we’ve partnered with United Nations of Basketball (@unbasketball) and the Somali Women Foundation (@somaliwomenfdn) in helping fund the start of the first ever organized women's basketball league. Aside from Hooper Mentality, organizations like Proformance Hawaii - a college prep (@proformancehawaii_wbb), and Sparta Bartreng - a basketball club in Luxembourg (@spartabertrange), came together to help purchase the team's basketball jerseys and sneakers.
This league is revolutionary for many reasons! The women are braving the scorn of their families and the threat of attack by gunmen who think women should not play sports publicly. Unfortunately, playing against the threat of danger isn’t anything new for Somalia’s women teams, but that wasn’t always been the case. Prior to the military coup in 1991, which led to a decade of lawlessness, women’s basketball actually thrived under Siad Barre’s government. Though a dictator, brutal to his opponents, he attempted to modernize the country and promoted women’s rights. The women’s national team played at the Pan Arab Games and travelled to Iraq, Jordan, and Morocco.
Short sleeve soccer style jerseys are used in Somalia for the women's basketball league
When the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) backed by militias controlled Mogadishu, they labeled sport as a “satanic act” and issued an order in 2006 prohibiting women from playing sports, including basketball. Somalis caught watching games on television were arrested and girls couldn’t go to stadiums to watch basketball, handball, or track and field, let alone compete in them. A few months later the ICU was deposed, but the militant Islamist group Al Shabaab, which has connections to al Qaeda, still fought to impose its own interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, on the country. Many Somali athletes had been threatened by members of Al Shabaab who see sport as an “un-Islamic” activity, according to Duran Ahmed Farah, the Somali National Olympic Committee (NOC) senior Vice President for international relations in 2011. They proved to be even more extreme than the courts, sometimes going as far as killing Somalis they caught involved in sports. “The threat is always there— there are people who will see girls playing sport as a devil’s thing and they will not allow it,” Farah said in an interview with CNN.
The teams only play in compounds behind high concrete walls, which shield them from the gaze of the curious or those who might attack them. In Somalia, basketball is one of the most popular sports among women. The country’s first national female basketball team was created in the early 1970s but had not participated at an international tournament since 1987. The Islamist ban in addition to challenges brought on by a lack of sponsorship and destroyed facilities, have prevented the development of the sport in the past years.
In 2011, the team achieved a remarkable feat at the 2011 Arab Games when they beat Qatar, the host nation. However, the team had to prepare for the Games in the bullet-ridden police headquarters in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. The women would train for two to three hours a day, watched by security officers ordered to protect them against religious militants targeting women playing the sport.
“These girls are brave: in that kind of environment they’re still playing their sport, the sport they like,” Farah said. Indeed, the women’s bravery is an indication of their passion for the sport and the love they have for the game. They dream of one day starting women’s teams all over Somalia.
In this video, the women kick off the league with their first games. Coaches are volunteers and the referees get paid $7 a game. Any funding that we continue to receive will go into improving the league, the courts and, ultimately, the opportunities for these women.
If you’re interested in donating, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We will also be having another apparel launch to help fund the league even more.