For girls to play football in Cambodia is to challenge nearly everything it means to be a woman. Khmer girls are supposed to be gentle, reserved and obedient; as such, playing football goes against the traditional norm. However, a growing number of girls and women are today redefining what it means to be a woman in Cambodia.
This trend now includes the Mighty Girls, who today play on Cambodia’s National Women’s team. These girls are thus rapidly becoming role models at the local level, as they gain confidence and leadership abilities both on and off the field. As such, the change they are spurring is slowly reaching out to all parts of Cambodian society.
This program started in 2010 and has become larger every year. Today, 46 girls have received help from the array of support sources we provide. Furthermore, more than 30 girls, aged 14-22, currently receive special education in both academics and football, alongside vocational training and leadership reinforcement activities.
Promoting three main goals:
A safe space
As well as a safety net, a safe space is what we aim to provide the girls with. As a means of combatting human trafficking, the Mighty Girls program gives at-risk individuals a safe alternative and creates opportunities for peer-to-peer education and mentoring through coaching and outreach in rural villages.
Cambodia today witnesses drastic underrepresentation in both higher education and positions of power in any and all sectors of the economy and society. By fostering and supporting top-level academic scholarships, and promoting one-on-one mentoring, the Mighty Girls program builds upon the positive effects of excelling at team sports to build the next generation of female leaders. All Mighty Girls thus attend Battambang’s best private school: Dewey International School.
The world of sport being strongly gender biased, the Mighty Girls program aims to increase girls’ access to quality football training. Female football is still in its infancy in Cambodia, yet the impact of girls succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated arena is already challenging gender discrimination throughout society. The select Mighty Girls today already includes some of the most promising female football players in the country, and forms the core of the Cambodian National Women’s team.
Developing talent at a younger age
Most of our Mighty Girls had no or hardly any serious football training before entering our program. They just played with other kids on fields that hardly deserve to be called a “football pitch,” and with no proper equipment. Thus, even though the Mighty Girls are already among Cambodia’s best female soccer team today, their skills only truly began developing at 16 at the earliest.
With this in mind, SALT started the Mighty Girls Development program in 2012. Focusing on girls from 13 to 15 years old, this branch of the program aims to develop football skills among girls at a much younger age, thus increasing their capacity to excel at football much more sustainably.
Out of the 60 girls who attended SALT’s Summer School in 2013, 14 were selected according to their school records, dedication, passion for football, social and economic backgrounds. These talented young girls all came from local partner organizations and surrounding small villages, and were thus selected to be the pioneers for the Mighty Girls Development program.
Today, due to their considerably higher football level, the team formed by these girls competes against boys’ teams in SALT’s Youth League. What’s more, their considerable performance on the field, culminating in a solid number of wins, has instilled respect among their male counterparts over the past couple of years.
Providing a home
Run by SALT staff, and with the help of an experience live-in housemother, the Mighty Girls house was opened in September 2010 with emergency funds as a result of the immediate need of one of the girls to find alternative housing. Today, roughly a dozen girls live at the house, which has become a positive communal space for all of the program’s participants.
With healthy meals, extra education (English and computer classes), room for team discussions, a meeting place for girls serving as coaches, and generally enough space for everyone to meet and interact, the house fosters team spirits among the football players and promotes commitment to education and coaching responsibilities.
In the future, we plan on expanding the dormitory to offer an alternative to girls in the program at risk of trafficking, and to provide the option for promising players to continue studying and training regardless of outstanding family or general monetary circumstances.