Football, meet feminism
The first time Happiness Gutshwa picked up a soccer ball, she held her future in her hands. Not that she knew it at the time. Just 11 years old, she couldn’t have imagined how far the sport would take her. At first she played with anyone willing to join. It was only as she got older that Gutshwa noticed the gender bias on the field. But this has only served to motivate her further. Despite the fact that men still get the lion’s share of sporting coverage and support, Gutshwa is determined to make a difference with Khayelitsha’s first women’s club.
In 2011, Gutshwa started working for Grassroot Soccer, an NGO that educates the youth through the sport. They formed RV United Women’s Football Club, with Gutshwa playing for their senior team and coaching their junior team. It’s been an exciting process, even if it has been punctuated by steep learning curves. “My team has come a long way,” she says. “It was hard at the beginning. We didn’t have anything. We struggled a lot but we overcame.” With Gutshwa, the rest of the players are at least assured that their playing field is level. “Everyone is equal and they are judged on their skills and effort,” she says. Gutshwa believes that if women’s clubs had the same kind of leagues as men, they would be able to develop their abilities. “With this kind of talent and energy, girls can do anything,” she says.
Instead of waiting to be recognised, Gutshwa is taking the opportunities given to her and using her experience to benefit others. “Grassroot Soccer changed my life,” she says. “I got educated and it helped me empower myself so that I can empower the young kids in my community to be game changers.” As well as passing on her soccer skills, she also helps the players with a homework club and teaches them essential life skills – HIV/Aids awareness in particular. The Laureus Sport for Good initiative noticed Gutshwa’s talent and ability to lead, and asked her to join their Youth Empowerment through Sport (YES) programme. Gutshwa travelled to the United Kingdom for further leadership training, bringing her wisdom back to South Africa. Together with the other players, Gutshwa is now creating a network of learning, support, safety and growth that extends past the goalposts.