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How a women’s basketball team in Somalia is completely changing the culture

The “Ball is life” mantra doesn’t just apply to the hoop heads of America, it’s a lifestyle reaching basketball fans who’ve made the same commitment until the final buzzer of every game across the entire world.

Women In the World recently featured Suad Glow, founder of the Somali Women Foundation. Suad has been openly addressing the unjust treatment of countries like UAE and Somalia where women are prevented from participating sports by extremist militant groups, like Al-Shabab, who have taken the country into their own reigns and forced it to play by their rules.

Growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia, Suad found her love for basketball at a young age. During the 1980s, she was captain of the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team. This granted her a scholarship (which would later turn out to be a one way ticket) to the University of the District of Columbia in Washington D.C.

She would not return to Somalia for 20 years.

In 1991, the Somali Civil war broke, leading to the collapse of the central government.

“I was shocked and saddened to find that extremist groups like Al-Shabab banned women and girls from playing sports and regularly send death threats to those who dare to play.”

Needless to say, very few women were willing to risk their lives over a sport.

But Suad wasn’t having it. Visiting her home country two decades later, she began working on developing the first “Somali Federal Women’s Basketball Tournament,” bringing together different team members from different Somalian cities and states, as well as the United States and Canada.

“The project helped re-open the door to women and girls’ participation in sports in Somalia on both the professional and amateur levels. Some 450 young women and girls watched the games daily and 192 girls played on seven regional teams. We employed 192 Somali women for 10 days.”

The project involved 192 employed girls and young women to come on board. A year later, Suad wanted to bump it up a notch recruiting Somali natives for the All Arab Games.

“We were the first Somali women’s team since the May 2017 overturning of the FIBA (the international basketball governing board) ban on women playing basketball with hijab.”

But religious fanatics decided that it wasn’t feasible for women to compete, regardless of whether or not they were wearing the hijab.

“However, we came up against another FIBA rule that did not permit the girls to play with arms and legs covered — which is another requirement of our religion. Some of our players declined to play for fear that exposing their arms and legs could lead to criticism, physical abuse and even death when they returned to their home states.”

But, as we discussed, ball is life. This wasn’t enough to stop some athletes from fulfilling their heart’s desires.

Suad’s project has been received quite positively, with an increase in the number of young girls between the ages 8-18 expressing interest in the sport.

“From our initial efforts to rebuild basketball in Somalia, we have seen concrete benefits: Families are now encouraging girls to participate in sports, especially basketball and track and field. Parents are less convinced by extremist claims about why girls must not play sports.”

Now, Suad is aiming to get the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team into the international league by winning the “4th Arab Women’s Sports Tournament in Dubai.”

The simple act of competing is a gain for the Somali Women National Basketball Team, but their wins will keep coming as long as they let their passion guide them and their love of the sport.

We’re rooting for these brave ladies!