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African Football Has The Potential To Be The World’s Best, If Only We Understood This!

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By Ronald Ssekandi:

I am an ardent fan of football, both as a casual player and a fan. I think football is one of the best inventions of mankind. I am a great supporter of my national team, the Uganda Cranes and despite our futile efforts to qualify for both the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup, my enthusiasm grows by the day. I am also a great fan of the Manchester United football club in England.

Uganda football team

Currently in Kenya, the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup which involves nations in East and Southern Africa is going on and as expected, Ugandans are high contenders. While I was discussing the tournament with a friend of mine who supports Rwanda (we beat them by the way), he intimated to me that the reason our football was not as developed as that in the west was because we as Africans had neglected our teams in favour of the more lucrative ones in Europe and other parts of the world. To him, that was the reason why many of our local players had big dreams to play, say in the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga.

Well, thinking about my friend’s concern reminds me of my concerns on cultural imperialism that I earlier wrote about. About three weeks or so ago, two Ugandans were awash international media after a betting deal that went rogue. Incidentally, while the big show down took place in England between Manchester United and Arsenal FC, two fans of those clubs here in Uganda betted against each other. The Arsenal fan staked his land and house while the Manchester United fan staked his wife and something else I can’t quite remember. As it turned out, Arsenal lost and this ardent fan of Arsenal lost his land and house!

In Uganda, English soccer is way more famous than anything I know. On weekends, bars and pubs are filled to the brim. I can recite the entire Manchester United squad by name while if you asked me to name my national team players, I doubt I could make it past the 5 mark. Ultimately, our local soccer growth scene has suffered and many of our players home can barely earn 200 dollars a month! When local teams are playing, the fan stands are empty and it is even worse if they play on a day when a European team is playing. There is also emergence of a new vice of betting. Today, we have over 50 sports betting companies and the culture of betting has eaten up, especially the unemployed youth who lay camp at these betting shops just to see if their predictions fell through. Our government reaps millions of shillings from these companies; in fact, they are currently one of the highest tax payers. Ironically, now the government is proposing stringent rules to control betting after realizing its negative effects to our society. Time and again we have heard of University students who have betted away their tuition fees in a hope of “doubling” the figure with some luck!

Football is meant to be fun and a source of entertainment but as it stands now, it has turned into a tool for so many evils; cultural and economic imperialism topping my list. Our nation and continent now stands at risk of an abuse we can barely fight. In Western Africa, national football bodies have complained of how their local players have abandoned their citizenship to play for countries in Europe just because of the great publicity and financial rewards. It is no longer about a sense of pride to play for one’s own country. I believe that great football leagues started small and given opportunity, local soccer can thrive. Apart from South Africa, I doubt if any African country can comfortably bid to host the world Cup, we simply do not have the facilities.

On a good note, various people like my friend Nesta are realizing the problem at hand. We know that sports are increasingly evolving and our economies and cultures can thrive through them. In the recent world cup held in South Africa, the country earned a lot of revenue. We also had a chance to show case our cultures through dance and music. Multi Choice is a business corporation which is also helping to grow football on the continent through bringing it on TV with its DSTV and GOTV brands. Actually, the current CECAFA tournament in Kenya is being sponsored by GOTV and I am able to catch all action from the comfort of my home. My heart races when I see our very own Daniel Sserunkuma and Captain Emma Okwi dribble and score as good as Wayne Rooney and Van Persie back in England!

I wish the Uganda Cranes team a deserved 14th CECAFA title!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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