My parent had no idea what football is all about when I started my career…Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire

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Former Nigeria International, Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire, the founder of the Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire Foundation. Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire played in the 1995 championship. They qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. She was awarded the 2022 FIFPRO Player Voice Award for founding Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire Foundation which promotes equality, health and supports young girls to have the right to play sports. Recently she partnered with Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) to fight sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria.

Webteam@ipledge2nigeria Lagos correspondent caught up with her at the official unveiling of the collaboration in Ikeja area of Lagos. In this interview, Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire talks about her collaboration with WARDC, the challenges she faced as a budding footballer and other issues affecting the girl child. What is your assessment of Gender-based violence, in Nigeria, and Africa in general? I think that question is a bit tricky because I am not based in Nigeria, I am proud of my roots don’t get me wrong. Outside the country, everyone is treated equally both girls and boys. In Nigeria, I think there are some improvements. Because of the works of nongovernmental organisations Like Dr Abiola who champion the course of women and girls.

The work they do have immensely helped in creating awareness of sexual and gender-based violence. I think there are lots of changes not much but there is room for improvement. For instance, most of the victims are scared to talk about it, in Africa most of the sexual and domestic violence cases are swept under the carpet which does not help the girl child to have equality with her peers. What are the challenges you faced as a young girl with an interest in football? Back in does days when I faced those challenges, it was because there weren’t a lot of girls playing football and my parent had no idea what football is all about. To make things worst, I couldn’t see anybody to call my role model on TV whereby my parent can watch and say this football is good, but, because of their parents, they don’t have an idea what it is. Not just kicking the ball, for example, even football itself is something that can make me have a good life, be active, interact, meet friends, and have connections.

If a girl child wants to play football and the parents say no, you have to change the perceptive and narrative of how the parents see women playing football, sometimes they see girls playing football as wayward, you don’t want to go to school but when you talk to the parents and let them know the reason and the importance and benefit of the girl child playing football and show them for example of some successful women in football this person is making the country proud, every parent will want their child to make them proud. But, you know the African perceptive of sport, for example abroad the parents support them, pay their school fees, but in Africa, Nigeria to be precise, the parents cannot even give you money like five thousand to buy a football or to buy a boot.

When I was playing during my time I play barefoot even with a lot of hurts. Now, football is more modern, the narrative has changed. I have a lot of experience because I am a living testimony of what I went through and had a successful football career that has made the country proud. Kindly shed more light on this collaboration with Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC). This partnership will help my foundation which focuses on the girl child. The partnership is going to be a very huge thing because we are promoting sports as a vehicle to kick out gender-based violence for young girls and women. Because when most victims are traumatised. They don’t know the right channel to seek justice. But we this kind of platform, victims can have easy access to seek redress. Tell us about the plan to have a football Academy in Lagos. First of all, we are combining education with football, with this gender-based violence. And by God’s grace, we want to build an academy that will be located in Badadry. Our plan with the academy is to have a complex when completed. We will take girls from the street, and rural areas putting them in camp, there is going to be a very conducive and better atmosphere area whereby they will be focused, determined, and consistent, and with consistency, they can always learn from local to international. That’s how I started my football career. I believe when this whole thing will start a lot of girls will want to be part of this and is going to go a long way and change not just their lives but society in general. How do you intend to achieve this project?

We are looking to take the world of football to these communities and to empower young girls to also become members of the thing we are doing through Aisha Yusuf foundation. We want to use this opportunity to ensure that we can break the gender norms. Several people are joining sports, and playing soccer but in the communities, it’s still seen as something different. So that’s why we feel they are a lot of potential in those communities. If we look at the world of sports, we would see that some of them are discovered in rural areas. Where they go to school field to play and people keep going there, watching them and pushing them to make sure they become a member of the federal state team then they move to the national.

So we’ve realized that young women are not getting that opportunity, and girls in school are not getting that opportunity. What we are trying to do with this partnership, is to watch them they have the coaches, and they have the people who can train, we also partner with schools, and we can use the schools in those communities. To achieve our goals, we are working with women leaders. Iyalodes, Iyalojas, and the community leaders. These women can stand in the gap to encourage young girls in these communities. Mediating between parents and children. So we are looking at that kind of linkage to strengthen women, it is going to be an inter-generational thing, between organisations like us, women leaders that have been there, our organisation.

Lagos will be the first model where that community interface will take place, we have about 12 communities in Lagos. So, we will start the mini tournament but the tournament will not start until when we have some coaching, training, get together on the field tackle themselves, then we start up with a tournament. So it’s a long-term perceptive. Doing that also, we are using it in way of campaigning in the community because the language we will use is ending sexual and gender-based violence, so we can have a team to end domestic violence. If we have people listen and watch that it’s an opportunity for us to bring out some of the issues we are talking about. We would lavage on that. Why use football as a vehicle to end violence against girls and women? Football unites women and men. We are leveraging the love for football to emphasise women’s issues like self-esteem building, sexual and gender-based violence, women’s political participation, and empowerment.

We collaborate with communities to enlighten them on social norms and gender-based violence that still bar girls and young women from playing sports, political participation, education, reproductive health care and opportunities. Football has no gender. We want young players to realize that in doing what they love, they can be amazing people. Billions of people across the globe love the sport of football. Football boosts self-esteem and confidence, provides jobs, boosts the sense of national unity and tourism, creates togetherness among strangers, gives young children role models, often creates and supports charities, offers health and fitness benefits, and lastly football gives pure joy. Women’s football players experience sexual harassment and emotional abuse. For women’s football development to exceed its current limit; more girls and women need support to pursue their dreams without fear of sexual violence, lack of equal pay, emotional abuse or gender-based violence.

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