Asisat Oshoala: Life more difficult for girl-child in Nigeria

Asisat Oshoala, five-time African women footballer awards winner, has been talking about her latest initiative, the Asisat Oshoala Academy (AOA). She shared insight into the girl-child in Africa and why she’s devoting her attention to supporting them.

The FC Barcelona star in partnership with Nike and Women Win, launched the foundation last week in Nigeria, with a view to providing access to football and life skills for marginalized schoolgirls in Lagos.

“I have always strived to give back to the girl child in my community and I believe this football academy will provide opportunities for more girls to excel through the combination of sports and education,” she said.

She reminisced her experiences as a young girl with a desire to play football as a driving force.

“I went to a mixed school for boys and girls, and that’s where I started playing football during playtime and after class. I played for fun in the streets of Lagos, mainly on Sundays. And then I joined a girls’ team in the city. I was happy because I could play football every day. I must admit it caused a lot of arguments with my mother, but I got my way. When I joined the Rivers Angels it opened the doors to the national team and for the first time I realised I could go on to become a professional.”

“Five years ago I set up my own foundation, which basically encourages girls to go ahead with their dream of turning professional. We only work with women because men have enough opportunities anyway. I speak to them and play with them and try to make them more confident and help them to find a club. We’ve helped about 5,000 girls. It’s my little bit to help girls in Lagos. It basically encourages girls to go ahead with their dream of turning professional.

“I think that it is hard for girls in Africa to play football and other sports in general. A lot of them have the same problems that I had when I was little in that their parents don’t want them to play and there aren’t many options for women footballers. I tell them never to give up, to keep fighting and believing in themselves. To love their football and play it whenever they can. If you believe hard enough, one day your dreams will come true.”

“My parents are shopkeepers. My family is polygamous. I know that sounds very strange in Europe but it’s normal in my country. In a Muslim society, a man can have more than one wife. I think it’s quite natural because that’s the way it has always been for me. My father has two wives, and one of them is my mother. I have seven brothers and sisters, two from my mum and four from my father’s other wife.

It was very difficult for me to play football at first but I was adamant and believed in my ability.

“In 2012 I went to the U20 World Cup, as a defensive midfielder, and when I went again in 2014 I became a forward. I was the top scorer and MVP at that tournament and that convinced me that I was good enough to make a career out of football and play in other countries. The first was England. Well, I did have a trial with París Saint-Germain before the second U20 World Cup, but my first European club was Liverpool when I was just 20 years old. I got other offers, but as my only language is English, I took that option. I went outside of Europe to play before Barcelona came for me. By that time, I knew I was ready and confident that I will make it among the best. That is the message I’m passing on to the girl child.”

Prior to setting up the Academy, Oshoala, 27, had established The Asisat Oshoala Foundation in 2015 and will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the academy with support from Women Win, the Amsterdam-based Global Women’s Fund, and Nike. “Women Win is very proud and excited to be partnering with our long-time partner Nike, Asisat, and the Asisat Oshoala Academy to leverage the power of sport to support girls in Nigeria to become better equipped to exercise their rights. This partnership and program will be key in ensuring that girls can thrive as they face the most pressing issues of adolescence and realize their inherent leadership potential.

AOA will provide 30 girls (ages 12 – 18) with access to 90 minutes of football training three times a week. The program will be complemented with life skills education covering a range of empowerment and rights-based topics. Graduates from the academy will be encouraged to convert their leadership skills to make a positive impact in their respective communities.

In addition to the weekly programming, the academy will host four ‘She Plays’ events a year. These events will broaden the reach of the academy’s activities and will host up to 100 schoolgirls, ages 12 to 18 years, every session.

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