Through the use of soccer the ‘Women Fighters’ take on men’s team, force change in government policies and score personal goals.
For the past eight years, the films screened at Canadian Sports Film Festival (CSFF) use sports as a medium to bring many world social issues to the forefront.
“In many ways, our purpose is to dispel the idea that sport is somehow separate from culture,” “The filmmakers use sport to tell stories that go beyond sport,” says CSFF founder and executive director Russell Field.
One of the features at this year’s CSFF was ‘Zanzibar Soccer Dreams‘ – a sequel to Zanzibar Queens, showing the personal stories and soccer activities of the ‘Women Fighters’ a predominantly Muslim women’s team and their 49-years-old coach Nassra Mohammed, famously known as Mama Nassra, who were once called, Wahuni, a Swahili word for ‘hooligans’ for playing soccer.
Mama Nassra has been a trailblazer in women soccer in the East African island and the driving force for empowering Zanzibari girls and women through soccer. She has been for years asking Zanzibar government to include women’s soccer in the school curriculum.
Fittingly, ‘Women Fighters’ was named out of daily tussles with boys.
“I came up with the name ‘Women Fighters’ as we had to fight every day with boys for the pitch where we can play soccer.” Says Mama Nassra, who was at the World Premier of ‘Zanzibar Soccer Dreams’ at CSFF in Toronto.
But the fight for the ‘Women Fighters’ rights to play soccer went beyond scuffles with the boys. Women Fighters, a predominantly Muslim women’s team had to struggle with cultural and religious challenges in Zanzibar.
Cameroonian-born filmmaker Florence Ayisi was self-compelled to make a sequel after seeing the impact and changes brought by the ‘Women’s Fighter’ in Zanzibar.
In 2009, the players of ‘Women Fighters’ team were invited to Potsdam, Germany, as a result of numerous screenings of Zanzibar Soccer Queens at international film festivals.
Soon after parents were bringing their daughters to soccer pitches, the most strenuous critics were converted, the government caved in Ayisi says.
One of these ‘earth moving’ changes was when Zanzibar government agreed to finally introduce women’s soccer in government schools as part of physical education curriculum.
Ayisi first met Mama Nassra when she was invited to take part in Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) as a jury member.
“It was heartbreaking, here was an African woman who has achieved so much and continues to empower young girls through sports and no one knows her,” says Ayisi, who is currently teaching at the Faculty of Creative Industries, University of South Wales, U.K.
Ayisi was determined to showcase the story of a new era and changing times in the tiny island 25-miles off the East Coast of Africa. Through a group of women soccer players and their coach.
“Times are changing in Africa, along with that there are many stories and I want to use the technology to tell these unique stories,” says Ayisi.
While in Toronto, Nassra visited Regent Park Community Center where she had a coaching session with Regent Park women’s soccer team.