Gaelle Enganamouit: ‘We are helping the African girls of tomorrow to play football’

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Gaelle Enganamouit: ‘We are helping the African girls of tomorrow to play football’

Gender inequality and migration are part of women’s football in the women’s African Football Cup of Nations. The players are looking for equality through sport. Chris Matthews reports.


Gaelle Enganamouit at a training session in Yaounde, Cameroon. © Thomas Obrador/Ze Place To See

‘I lived here, just three minutes from the stadium,’ says Gaelle Enganamouit . ‘In front of the house where my mum lives we played football with what we could find. I am happy to be back here to play in my area.’ She is Cameroon’s star player. The day before at the national stadium in Yaounde on 19 November 2016, she helped her team win against Egypt. It was the first match of the Women’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament.

She is 24 and plays professionally in Sweden. Her picture is everywhere and supports the tournament and women’s football in Cameroon. Pierre Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt is the Minister of Sports and Physical Education.He says that the national team gives hope to Cameroonians and young people.


The opening ceremony of the Women's AFCON 2016 in Yaounde, Cameroon beat Egypt 2-0. Chris Matthews

The tournament is for two weeks. It has Africa’s eight best women’s teams. Many hope the tournament will help raise the profile of women’s football.

In November 2016, Gambian goalkeeper Fatima Jawara died in the Mediterranean on a migrant crossing. This showed the inequality between male and female players and that football is part of the problems in Africa. Like many African countries, it is often difficult to start playing women’s football in the Cameroon. From an early age, families expect girls to study or work, often in informal economies.

Girls in Cameroon are 10 per cent less likely than boys to finish secondary school. Around 50 per cent of working women in the country are employed in farming.

Engangmouit grew up in Yaoundeis. She is the youngest of nine – seven sisters and two brothers. She says she started playing football aged five but she did not see many girls playing on the streets.

‘When I was a child I always liked to play football and be with men all the time because I like football and it was not easy to see women playing football,’ she says. ‘You know it is not easy for parents to let their children play football because they want everybody to go to school.’ At the age of 14 she played with one of the few women’s teams in Yaounde and was in the under-16 national team.

At age 19, she played in Europe with Serbian side Spartak Subotica. When she wanted to leave school to play football, it was a difficult time for her parents.

‘I was studying at the Lycee but I was interested most in football,’ she says. ‘My parents were not happy because they said I needed to learn something before I play football because they thought football was nothing.’ ‘In the past, this was what every parent thought. Now parents are starting to think football can be a profession.’


Gaelle Enganamouit after training in Yaounde, Cameroon. Thomas Obrador/Ze Place To See

Since 2014, she has been playing as a professional in Sweden. She won the 2015 ‘Golden Boot’ award and was on the short list for the BBC African footballer of the year award in 2016.

Thousands of excited supporters came to the Yaounde’s Omnisports Stadium dressed in green and gold.

Cassandra Mamekem is 20 and a student. She says, ‘I am really excited because I know Cameroon will win. I am a fan of football and women’s football is really popular now.’

The tournament also has the champions, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, Work to improve the Yaounde stadium cost more than $6.5 million. $597 million from Italy and Turkey will help the men’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2019.


The opening ceremony of the Women's AFCON 2016 in Yaounde, Cameroon. Chris Matthews

But there is not much money for women’s football in Cameroon. Six of Cameroon’s team play as amateurs.

It is a similar for many across Africa. Ghana’s Black Queens called government money of $2,000 was not enough after they won the Africa Championships in 2015. This was the year before John Mahama’s government sent $3 million in cash to Brazil because of problems with money for the World Cup with the men’s team.

The Cameroon Football Development Programme is helping women’s football. It gave football coaching for boys in the southwest of Cameroon and now it is giving coaching for girls too.

They made eight teams across the area and have a small informal league to help the women’s game in the country and change the way people think about women’s football.

Collins Diony is director of operations. He says, ’Parents say that football is not a game for girls, so seeing girls from other countries play in this tournament will give these girls a different idea of what a young woman can do.’

In Ghana, Right to Dream opened Africa’s first football academy for girls in 2013. In South Africa, the Girls & Football programme uses football to give education on gender values and violence. And Kenya just started the first league for women in the country this year.

Justine is 45 and a mother of eight with three daughters from Limbe. She says parents are supporting women’s football now. ‘We see females playing here and I am very happy. My daughters play. They want to be footballers when they are older and if they do I will be happy.’

Sports minister Mkpatt says the government needs to do more and he says there are plans to help women’s football in the country. He says that there will be a professional league soon. ‘Women’s football is new and it takes time,’ he says.

‘Now we are talking about the Cameroon women’s team playing the Africa Cup of Nations and not talking about men this time. It shows that what women are doing in Cameroon is important now.’

Suzie Massing is 21 and plays football, He father Benjamin played for the Cameroon men’s national team in the 1990 World Cup. She says the tournament can change some people’s ideas about girls playing sport. ‘If you want to work, there are jobs that as a woman you cannot do. But the tournament is important because it can help show that women can be like men in everything.’

Enganamouit says, ‘Now there is more support. Before, when the women’s team played, there weren’t 100 people in the stadium. Today we have 40,000, The game today can help the young girls who want to play professionally tomorrow.’


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).