18 July 2019

Eight months ago, Arare (15) arrived from Ethiopia at the Emergency Housing Centre for Migrants of Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. Persecuted by the ruling government because of her Oromo ethnicity she was forced to leave her home country together with her family. Two months later she was joined by Meher (19), escaping years of damage caused by the war in Afghanistan. At Festival 19, they shared the role of Fútbol Más in their new lives in Europe. Read the full pitch-side interview below.


In this pitch-side interview series, typically the first question we ask is how they rate their communities in terms of gender equality between one and ten. However, as you have both moved to Paris very recently, from entirely different continents respectively, what are the differences you have both noticed?


Meher: Coming to France as a woman from Afghanistan, has been so good for me. Back home, women are so limited. At times, I really felt like we couldn’t do anything. Saying ‘I am a woman’ means saying ‘I can’t play football’ , it means saying ‘I don’t know if I can study’. Now I know, through comparing my experiences to living here, I didn’t have a voice. I wasn’t able to explain things, myself, or show people what I believe in. You know, I really love football so much, and that was something I wasn’t allowed to do. This is what is happening to women, they are not allowed to be themselves. Here, it doesn’t matter so much whether you are a man or a woman, life is more equal. But why should I feel free only here. It’s such a big problem.


Arare: For me, I am so happy to be here because, like Meher, my life has improved. Before I came here, I had never even thought about kicking a ball in public, let alone actually doing it. Football was played between my father and myself within the safety of my bedroom. Now I’m at a football festival in Lyon. I have so much freedom (laughs). To be honest, I feel as if I know myself now.


So, would it be fair to say you have both felt a significant improvement in your quality of life? I would also be interested to know your opinion towards gender relations here.


Meher: To be honest, I see the fairness and humanity more than anything. It’s not a problem whether you are a boy or a girl or what country you come from and, for me, that’s the way it should be. As pupils in school, we can share our experiences and be the person we truly want to be.


Arare: For me it’s the same. Whether it’s sport, school or even socialising with friends, we do everything together irrelevant of gender or nationality.


Many people here at Festival 19 have been praising exactly that, celebrating the diversity and the sense of togetherness and sharing. If there was one thing you both would like to share with everyone here about yourselves come the end of your time in Lyon, what would it be?


Meher: I know I’ve said it already but I really would like people to know that up until six months ago I wasn’t allowed to play. We have so many players here, who, while having their own challenges, were in some form allowed to play. Of course I believe playing should be a right and not a privilege but, for me, playing remains a privilege that I cherish.


Arare: I too want people to know that I’m so happy to be here. Like Meher, I have experienced being told ‘no, you can’t do something’. So I would just like to make people aware of the importance of respect and opportunity. Playing in a mixed-gender team, having your voice heard on the pitch, even simply receiving a pass, all of these things have made me a person I can identify with. It has helped me learn things about myself.


If you needed to make a five-a-side team, made of people to help you change the world who would be in your team?


Meher: I just need one player but you won’t like my answer (laughs), so please hear me out. Also, this question is also not very fair because it’s so difficult which, means I’m allowed to be also be unfair. I’m taking all of human kind, as one, all people together. The reason, you can’t make change with one person, people need to be together; we all just need to show a little more humanity to one another's empowerment - it needs to be balanced.


Arare: Can I copy her answer? No? That’s not fair (laughs). Ok, but then I want to choose just one person. I would choose my sports teacher Marion from Fútbol Más and it’s not because she’s sitting right in front of me. She’s such a kind and inspiring woman who demands that everyone is treated with respect. She has stood up for me and so many young women, even if our families or our communities don’t, we know that she will. I speak for both of us, Meher and I, both living in the same refuge centre, Marion has been the only one able to gain the trust of our families. Whenever she knocks on our door, we are free to go with her and be our happiest selves.


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