Pauline Msungu currently stars for the Thika Queens in the Kenyan Women’s Premier League, but her introduction to football came, as is so often the case, through her family. Having watched her older brothers play with their friends in the local field, she started developing an interest, and eventually plucked up the courage to join in. Her love for the game grew stronger and stronger until she was eventually training with them too. She then joined the girls’ team at her school, but her path to the top level was not simple. Indeed, as her time in primary school came to an end, she was faced with a problematic situation.
“I come from a humble background; my parents could not raise the school fees to pay for me to continue into secondary education,” explains Msungu. “That's when I was offered a very rare opportunity, as I was scouted by a coach who offered me the chance to join his school on a full scholarship to study. Upon joining the school, I was appointed as the school games captain and led my team at the national level through all four of my years there.”
Msungu was one of a fortunate few women who are offered such a chance in Kenya, also going on to be offered another scholarship at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to study commerce and procurement, where she once again became the games captain and led her team at the national level. For many women in Kenya, though, chances to participate in sport are few and far between, with women’s sport often relegated to an afterthought when compared to men’s sport.
“For us in Kenya, women in sports are not given enough opportunities and are not considered as important as our male counterparts,” explains Msungu. “There is clear discrimination and inequality of opportunities, and so most of our girls give up on sport very easily. They feel like they’re not being considered; they’re not being given the opportunity to showcase their talent. For instance, women’s teams will be taken to a playground that is not a safe or suitable place to play on, while the men’s teams might be taken to a stadium where they have their fans and the ground is absolutely fine, as it should be. Everything is safe for them, but for the women, they just don’t care.”
An eye-opening experience
One way Msungu has sought to try to bring about change for women in her community is through the IOC Young Leaders programme. She was selected as one of 25 young talents who are empowered to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their community. Over the four-year programme, participants receive expert guidance on a range of topics, including human-centred design and impact measurement, while they are also provided with crucial funding to bring their projects to life. For Msungu, the sessions so far have helped her to discover exactly how she wants to make a difference.
“This programme has been an eye-opener for me because it has inspired me to try to bring round change in my society, and to focus on something that I've always been passionate about,” she says. “I can clearly say I'm passionate about gender equality, because I've been a victim of it throughout my playing time and studies. I appreciate the programme because it has really changed me. I had no confidence before; I could not even speak in front of the camera. It wasn't easy for me to adapt, but slowly, by learning through the different sessions, it's very easy now. I can be a speaker to so many people. It has just totally changed my life.”
Beyond Sport_Kenya – a community effort
These changes within her, and the focus gained from participating in the IOC Young Leaders programme, helped Msungu to understand not only who she wanted to help in her own community, but how she could do this. As such, she founded Beyond Sport_Kenya – a project dedicated to reducing gender inequality and improving the lives of women. To encourage this, the project will offer mentorship sessions to girls and boys, to empower them and help them to understand why it is important to advocate for gender equality in the community. This is further supported by including the parents and other key stakeholders in the process. On the sporting side, Beyond Sport_Kenya will offer football tournaments, festivals and drills focused not just on developing skills, but also on offering equal opportunities to all those interested.
“My project is all about gender equality and solving this problem in the community,” says Msungu. “It is something that I understand and really have a passion for. I have the passion of working with youths to understand what they need, and also what my community needs to resolve this problem. We want them to at least see there is a requirement for us to have gender equality, there is a requirement for us to have a balanced community for the youths, and there is a requirement for the youth to have a safe space to talk about issues that affect them. We want to focus more on women, but we also work with men, because without them knowing about what women also want or need, they cannot understand what to do.”
Wake up and fight for your rights
Msungu hopes that, through Beyond Sport_Kenya, she can inspire both women and men in her community to come together and work towards fixing a fundamental problem in society. To do this, she wants to inspire girls to have the confidence to speak up for themselves and to take part in any activity they want, sporting or otherwise. When she was younger, Msungu was inspired by her mother, who had to take over duties as the primary earner in the household when her husband suffered an accident that left him hospitalised for almost four years. Now, Msungu wants to inspire the next generation.
“With young people looking up to us in the community, I want them to ask, ‘Why can’t I be like this person who is working towards achieving something very impactful? I want to grow up and be like this person because I can see she's working well.’ They should have that self-belief and trust in themselves. That's the key. They should all wake up and fight for their rights.”
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IOC Young Leaders Programme
Launched in 2016, it empowers young people to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. So far, with the support of seed funding from the IOC and a network of mentors, these inspiring young people have delivered over 116 sport-led projects in communities across the globe, promoting themes such as education, social inclusion, sustainability and well-being, and directly benefitting more than 30,000 people.
As a founding partner, Panasonic has supported the IOC Young Leaders Programme since 2017, and continues to do so by providing both additional funding to be used as grants and audiovisual equipment, and by producing impactful storytelling that promotes the programme and the Young Leaders themselves.
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