When a boy excels at sports, a door of opportunities swings wide open. Every medal won from kindergarten to high school counts when making an impression for college applications; ivy leagues seem closer to reach, and a calling in sports is instantly recognised as a probable career path. When a girl takes precedence in any sport, her talent is side-lined as an extra curricular activity – a side project while she figures out how to subdue her ‘tom-boy’ qualities and find a more suitable career path, if any. A greater system made up of societal norms, cultural values and patriarchal dominance makes it immensely difficult for women to rock the boat and shake that structure, just to be seen in the sports world, and taken as seriously as her counterpart.
As a society, we fail to recognise that we are part of the problem. I remember staying back in school for sports day practices, but always feeling uncomfortable. I felt like I was being watched, and not for my sportsmanship. This stripped me from my love for many sports, which later translated to always feeling self consciousness of how I appeared on the field. Sports are messy and gritty, but elegant and fierce, and I failed to see the beauty in either of those things. I always searched for an example, which would allow me to push myself without worrying about what anyone had to say. I wish I had someone like Hajra Khan to show me that sports have no gender and are truly for everyone.
Here is a list of things I wish I learned then, but am learning now, from Hajra Khan, Pakistan’s Football Team Captain:
1. Break Stereotypes and Defy Gender Norms
According to the ‘Woman’s Sports Foundation’ girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports in high schools than boys, due to limited access and unequal physical education. Hajra plays for the Equal Playing Field, which provides equality and respect for all girls around the world.
2. Equality is Important
Along with many other brilliant sportswomen, Khan believes equal pay, media attention, and sponsorship should be a priority in the world of sports. She is an ambassador at Goal Five, a platform that pushes for equal pay, opportunities and exposure for female athletes.
3. The World is Your Oyster
When Khan was invited to play at the Equal Playing Field in Jordan, she was part of the first game ever played bellow sea level – the lowest altitude of any football match ever. If that isn’t impressive enough, Khan even scored for the winning team during this iconic match. To add to this, she also took part in the worlds longest football game which lasted 96 hours, accomplishing another World Record. That same weekend, the icon was part of a match with the most number of nationalities, totalling up to her hat-trick record
4. Mental Health is NOT a Taboo – Find Your Space to #SpeakUp
Hajra spoke up about her struggle with anxiety and depression. Outside of sports, everyone faces hardships that take a mental toll on us, no matter what the scale. The bold athlete came forward about her story, eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental health. Even starting a conversation is important, and when people we look up to share a story that could be linked to our own, it makes the worlds difference, “The first step forward is initiating conversations around mental health, encouraging people to speak up and showing them that there ARE people here to listen. We can all play our part in supporting those around us and improving lives.”
5. You Can Be Whoever You Want to Be
It doesn’t matter what you wear if you are true to your own aesthetic. Wear your clothes with confidence and the world will follow. Be true to yourself, whether that’s in a blazer and pants or a skirt and heels. At the HUM Style Awards, Khan won Most Stylish Sports Personality by dressing like the true badass that she is.