International Women’s Day 2020: The Fearless Basketball Players of Somalia

In present day Somalia, the notion of gender equality and the concept of equal opportunity are unfortunately still not widely accepted or understood. Decades of conflict and general instability have forced women into social isolation, making their public participation in sport settings almost unheard of.

The Somali Women Foundation (SWF) is striving to change that. Its president and founder, Suad Galow, is a former co-captain of the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team. In 1990, Suad moved to the United States on a full scholarship to play basketball for the University of the District of Columbia in Washington DC. Shortly after moving to the US, the Somali civil war broke out. Women playing sports became a thing of the past as draconian social restrictions were imposed on them in society, making them less visible in areas where they used to thrive.

Suad Galow in the National Team during the All African Games in 1988

Fearing that all of the achievements made by the women’s basketball team would be forgotten, Suad decided to return to Somalia in 2009 in order to empower Somali women and girls through education, sport and peace by reviving the art of basketball. On her decision to come back to the country she states: “I wanted to move Somali women’s sports forward”, and in a few years time, she managed to do just that.

In December 2016, the SWF organized the first “Somali Federal Women’s Basketball Tournament” in the city of Garowe, the capital of the Puntland region of Somalia. The event was historic, as Somali women from different regions in the country came together to play basketball in public for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war.

The journey to this tournament was the topic of a documentary called “Rajada Dalka – Nation of Hope” which followed Suad and a team of basketball players who spoke about the dangers they faced on a daily basis as women who play basketball in Somalia.

Suad believes that “investing in girls saves families”, which is why the SWF is currently in the process of building the largest all-girls school in Somalia. The school will be called the Mogadishu Girls Leadership Academy (MGLA). It promises to provide girls and young women with a thorough college introductory education system focused on science, technology, and math in a supportive environment that fosters confidence, leadership development, critical thinking, academic and athletic excellence.

The SWF are preparing to organize a football and basketball tournament in Mogadishu during the month of March. Despite the many challenges ahead, Suad continues to break boundaries and remains optimistic about the future of women’s sports in Somalia.

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