The international footballer Tabitha Chawinga calls on the Malawi football authorities to introduce protective measures to protect women from abuse at all levels of football.
Chawinga, who became the first Malawian woman to sign for a European soccer team in 2014 when she joined the Swedish club Krokom / Dvärsätts IF in 2014, said she had to undress publicly during a game to prove she was female and was regular trolls about her looks on social media.
“I don’t want others to experience the same thing. I think if you insult someone you just met on the soccer field, what would you do if I was born into your family. Could you have killed me? ”She said in a telephone interview from China, where she now plays for Wuhan Jianghan University FC in the Chinese Women’s Super League and has been voted Player of the Year for two years in a row.
The 25-year-old, who captained the Malawian national team and was voted one of the 100 best women footballers in the world by the Guardian last year, said that when she was 13 she was forced to play for a girls’ school team to strip in front of the opposition to prove that she is a girl. Her opponents did not believe that she was female because of her physical appearance and good play.
“I’ve never been so devastated and cried at the embarrassment I was exposed to. I wanted to go out straight away, but somehow my teammates comforted me and I decided to quit the game, ”she said. The incident resulted in her quitting the sport for a year.
The same thing happened a year later when she played for Lilongwe women’s soccer team DD Sunshine – a move, she said, it was her first step into a professional soccer career.
Tabitha Chawinga left Temwa in Cape Town with her sister last year. Photo: Handout
During a Women’s Presidential Cup game, she was told to undress on the field.
“We were in a Presidential Cup game and we went to Blantyre for our first game to play Blantyre Zero. It was a very difficult game and during the game I was undressed right in the ground, ”said Chawinga, who started playing soccer with her male cousins at a young age. “I lost it at that moment and we lost the game too.”
DD Sunshine owner David Dube said the club filed a complaint with the Malawi Football Association at the time but received no response.
Chawinga, from Rumphi District in northern Malawi, said she had not raised the issue with the authorities because of her young age, but wanted to speak up now.
“When I was undressed I was young and didn’t know my rights. But when we talk about rights, they should be implemented. I encourage women who are enthusiastic about football that anything is possible. And being born differently is not the end of the world, ”said Chawinga, whose sister Temwa also plays in China.
“I would like to ask the government and sports officials to ensure that the rights of every player are protected. This is how I was born and I know that I am God’s creation. I can’t change the way I look, ”she said.
“I urge the officials of women’s football to promote the well-being of the players by protecting their human rights.”
Maggie Kathewera Banda, founder and executive director of the Women’s Legal Resources Center, said what Chawinga went through was an act of gender-based violence. “It’s a violation of someone’s dignity,” she said.
Alfred Gunda, General Secretary of the Malawi Football Association, who was not with the organization when the complaint was made by Chawinga’s club, said: “What happened is not right and we cannot tolerate it and therefore at this time we encourage that the officials take responsibility and look after the players as their own children, and also ensure that all incidents are reported and that the correct measures are taken so that we can protect our girls. “
He said the association had youth development programs and a school program for under-15s to encourage more girls to start the sport.