Footballer, 16, hopes campaign to let girls wear hijabs during PE grows

Footballer, 16, hopes campaign to let girls wear hijabs during PE grows
Umme wants all girls to feel comfortable playing sport (Football Beyond Borders/PA)

A 16-year-old footballer hopes her campaign which allowed Muslim girls to wear sports hijabs during physical education (PE) lessons at her school will have a nationwide impact.

Umme Kalsoom launched the campaign alongside friends in 2021 because she felt “vulnerable” when expected to take off her hijab during school sports sessions at Marsden Heights Community College, in Lancashire, and she wanted others to feel comfortable.

“I did it to bring comfort to myself and the other girls, but I also felt vulnerable taking it off when I didn’t want to”, the student who lives in Brierfield, near Burnley, told the PA news agency.

Girl looking at the camera, with her arms crossedUmme said the hijab makes her feel like herself (Football Beyond Borders)

“(The hijab) makes me feel like myself.

“Taking it off to do something I love didn’t enable me to feel my full self and I lacked confidence without it.”

The school policy – which it has since been changed – was originally put in place for health and safety reasons.

Umme has played football for around four years as part of a programme at Football Beyond Borders (FBB), a social inclusion charity that helped her push for change at her school.

The girls and staff at FBB led a presentation with the school’s senior leadership team and spoke about the importance of wearing a hijab and how they feel when this is not allowed.

Many staff at the school were supportive of the campaign, in particular head of year Tasneem Hussain, Umme said.

“I went to my head of year and spoke to her about it and she is Muslim and she was very supportive and understanding and she helped me to pursue the campaign further and gets my points across”, Umme added.

In a short film directed by Alina Akbar in partnership with creative agency Youth Beyond Borders (YBB), Aurora Media and Fifa+, Ms Hussain said: “I wanted Umme and the girls to feel like they were supported by the school.

“It’s something that’s quite close to my heart as well, being a Muslim teacher and being someone that the girls felt comfortable to approach to speak about it.”

Umme has held talks with members of Lancashire County Council and said she was struck by the attention her campaign has achieved, adding: “I didn’t know it would go this far.”

Girl sitting down and looking at the cameraUmme said she hopes her campaign has a nationwide impact (Football Beyond Borders/PA)

She said other young Muslim girls have since sought advice, which makes her feel “great to be the leader of this campaign” and she hopes it has a nationwide appeal since it aims to “break down the barriers for girls to play football everywhere they exist”.

With England’s Lionesses playing their first match at the Women’s World Cup against Haiti on Saturday morning, Umme said: “I’m very excited, I can’t wait.

“It was so inspiring to see them get themselves to the final of the Women’s Euro and win the trophy.”

Umme said she likes how “inclusive” football can be: “It’s really inclusive and really powerful because you play with people with different abilities and from different backgrounds, so it brings people together and it makes them more confident.”

FBB has launched a GoFundMe to raise £100,000 to support 100 girls through its football programme in time for the Women’s World Cup, which can be accessed via:

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