Yasmeen Khair is a shy, 32-year-old football player from Jordan. At a young age, Yasmeen began playing football for fun, but her main focus was pursuing a professional gymnastics career because football was not a customary women’s sport in Jordan’s patriarchal society. Yasmeen was a member of the Jordanian National Gymnastics Team until she was 16, but she never lost her love for the beautiful game of football. Notwithstanding her success in football and gymnastics, Yasmeen is a natural leader, who is playing a valuable role in paving the way, fighting against gender stereotypes, to ensure the new generation of women athletes only get to experience the joys of sport. She is truly an inspiration to many young women in Jordan for her leadership on and off the field.
Yasmeen first began playing football 14 years ago with her father’s help. Her father was the main reason her football career got off the ground. Although Yasmeen had her family’s support in playing the male-dominated sport of football, she still had to overcome many obstacles placed in her path by more culturally conservative members of Jordanian society. Jordan is considered one of the safest and most tolerant Muslim countries in the Middle East, however, sexism, inequality, gender discrimination, and misogyny are still very common, and women are considered second-class citizens.
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It is important to point out, recently, women’s participation in the private and public sector has increased and women are actively holding leadership positions in the government, but the lack of substantive gender equality policy negatively impacts women. Yasmeen and many other women are still struggling to overcome gender equality and are unable to compete on an even playing field given their need to balance family needs, social expectation, and professional duties. Yasmeen is one of the lucky women who had a family that supported her athletic career and treated her with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, there are still many women in Jordan who are not able to play the empowering game of football due to a lack of familial and societal backing. Football is still considered a male dominated sport in Jordan, and many believe that there is no room for women participants. There is still the expectation among many that women, as the “honor” of the family, should remain at home, get married, and have children.
“When we get men to support the women’s game, it shows they are accepting the fact that women can also play. Changing their mindset will affect the community in general.”
Yasmeen’s father saw his daughter’s natural ability at an early age and knew that she could be a role model for the younger generation of football players one day. This is a great example of how men can ally with women and help them achieve equality in a patriarchal society. I speak from personal experience because my father was my biggest supporter when I began playing football in Afghanistan. Yasmeen emphasizes the importance of male support to the success of any women’s football program.
“As an individual, football helped me to be more confident and more mature at a young age.”
Football had a great impact on Yasmeen, and it is empowering to witness the positive effects of sports on her life. She has stated, “football changed my life in many ways, and it changed my personality. I became an independent woman, a stronger woman who believed that nothing is impossible no matter the circumstances.” Yasmeen played for the Jordanian Women’s National Team for thirteen years and as one of the pioneers of women’s football, she was there from the beginning when the team was established in 2005.
Yasmeen is considered a team player and leader, who has worked with her teammates on and off the football pitch, to help them overcome the difficulties of being members of the first Jordanian Women’s National Team. Yasmeen’s hope is to encourage other young girls around the world to play football because of the positive impact the sport will have on their lives. According to Yasmeen, “playing sports in general is very important for both girls and boys because sports are not only good for your health but can also give you the opportunity to travel the world, meet people from other countries, and become more tolerant of people with different cultures and beliefs.
Yasmeen also believes that playing football and other sports can play a vital role in promoting gender equality. In Jordan, people traditionally thought football was only for men, but this is not true anymore as things are changing in the country for women and young girls. Women have achieved great things in Jordan in comparison to other Middle Eastern nations, and the Jordanian National Women’s Football Team is proof that women, just like men, are now competing and representing Jordan on the world stage.
“I had a great experience playing for Jordan National Team. I met new people from different backgrounds, and we became friends with everyone because we were all one big family who were willing to do anything to keep the team together.”
Yasmeen loves playing football, not only because she truly enjoys the beautiful game, but because, “football is for everyone, whether they are rich or poor.” Religious beliefs, ethnic background, race, language, and nationality are not important because everyone is representing one team and one country: Jordan. Other aspects of football that are important to Yasmeen are skills learned on the field, love and passion for the game, and lasting friendships made with her teammates. That is the beauty of sports, especially football. They push people to break boundaries and accept one another’s humanity.
Despite the team’s dedication, hard work, and the support of Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the President of the Jordanian Football Federation, the Women’s National Team did not qualify for the Women’s World Cup. The team is still new and needs more time to gain experience before it can play competitively with more established international teams. While the failure to qualify for the World Cup was heartbreaking for the team, the players should be proud of their other accomplishments, including how they displayed their athletic ability and strength while shattering oppressive social norms and gender stereotypes. According to Yasmeen, there are now many more young girls playing football in Jordan, and there are a number of new investors supporting women’s football. For her and the woman in her country these are great successes.
"Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein truly invested in the team, provided players with a safe environment to play, and believed in their capability regardless of their gender."
Yasmeen gives all the credit for the achievements and success of the Jordanian National Football Team to the President of the Jordanian Football Federation, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. It is important for all sports federations around the world to know that women athletes can truly excel when they are supported and taken seriously. Jordan continues to show great progress in women’s football. In 2016, Jordan hosted the first FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, and their performance in the Women’s Asian Cup in 2018 showed the progress the Women’s National Team has made since its inception in 2005. Jordan provides a great example of how women’s football can progress and triumph when a football federation thoroughly invests in the game. Jordan’s Football Federation has been recognized internationally for its efforts making it possible for women to play football.
Yasmeen’s final message to women football players and athletes around the world is this:
“Never give up, and fight for your dreams no matter the circumstances. Your love and passion for the game will keep you going.”