Navigating stereotypes and embracing evolution: The landscape of women’s football in Africa

Barbra Banda of Zambia leads the team out prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 match vs Japan
Barbra Banda of Zambia leads the team out prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 match vs Japan at Waikato Stadium on July 22, 2023 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Football holds immense popularity in Africa, with Africans displaying a strong passion for the sport across the southern, western, eastern, northern, and central regions of the continent. Numerous African footballers excel at elite levels globally, particularly in Europe.

While football enjoys widespread admiration in Africa, there’s a question about whether this fervour extends equally to women’s football. Is the women’s aspect of the game embraced with the same enthusiasm as its male counterpart? 

In our current world, women’s football is undergoing significant evolution. However, before reaching this point, challenges arose when women entered male-dominated fields. Doubts were raised regarding the players’ abilities and the quality of football they showcased, often compared to male sports. 

The overall questionable quality of football in Africa has further hindered the progress of women’s football on the continent. Some countries lack proper training infrastructure for them to develop and excel in their talents, while others neglect to provide adequate compensation for female players during international duties.

However, the presence of numerous talented female footballers from Africa, such as Asisat Oshoala, Rasheedat Ajibade, Chiamaka Nnadozie, and Mitchelle Alozie from Nigeria, Aminata Haidara from Ivory Coast, Tabitha Chawinga from Malawi, and Rachel Kundanaji and Babra Banda from Zambia, each showcasing distinct talents, is this enough for the continent’s football to shine through?

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Stereotypes and challenges faced by African players

Football transcends gender boundaries, yet being predominantly male-dominated, African women players confront numerous challenges. Particularly within the societal context of their respective nations. Many face derogatory labels such as ‘useless’, discouraging them from pursuing their football aspirations.

Female footballers often encounter ridicule regarding their appearance and physique, often labeled as ‘tomboys’ and subjected to mockery. Those who evade such mockery may find themselves objectified by male fans or society at large.

Additionally, the perception that women’s football is less professional limits the opportunities available for them to compete at elite levels compared to their male counterparts. These factors collectively impede the development and progression of the women’s game across the continent.

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The evolution of women’s football in Africa

Despite encountering certain challenges in the women’s game, there are also noteworthy reasons for celebration. Undoubtedly, the quality of the game is on an upward trajectory, evolving with a growing number of individuals already taking a keen interest in it.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup marked a thrilling period for women’s football, witnessing record-breaking attendance in both Australia and New Zealand. It also held historical significance for Africa as, for the first time since its inception, every African team secured at least one victory, and three teams advanced to the knockout round.

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Nigeria’s Super Falcons remained unbeaten in the group stage, South Africa’s Banyana Banyana secured a notable 3-2 victory over Italy, and debutants Morocco — despite an initial 6-0 loss to Germany — made an impressive entry by defeating South Korea and Colombia to reach the round of 16.

Anticipated to occur later this year in Morocco, the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, much like its preceding edition, has already set high expectations. Enthusiastic fans eagerly await the showcase of football prowess from various countries.

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