by Anisah Arif

WHAT family want a daughter-in-law who can run around kicking football all day but can’t make round chapatis?

The infamous line from the movie Bend it like Beckham played on the heartstrings of many south Asian females living in the UK.

The 2002 film, about a Punjabi teenage girl in Southall, sneaking off from her parents to live her dream as a professional footballer, opened many conversations within households, who prior to this, weren’t heard of.

One wonders if eyebrows are still raised at the idea of south Asian females throwing away their appointed role of becoming a ‘conservative’ housewife, and pursuing other career options. The very idea of daughters investing their time in sports is somewhat shameful in some communities. “What would Mrs Bibi say?” As if there was an underlying reputation to be held that could not be ruined by a 13-year-old’s choice of after-school activity.

Pakistani footballer Ikra Ali has been sneaking out to play football on the streets, despite her parents’ efforts to keep her occupied with household chores. “It was quite difficult for me growing up, trying to play football. Where I live, the majority of residents are South Asian; my parents were asked how they would allow their daughter to be running around the streets with boys.”

Ikra, 24, was the only girl in a squad of boys, which made her stand out. “The more I resisted, the more my family came round to understanding my love for the game. After many disagreements, I had overcome my first obstacle.”

But playing football made Ikra feel like an outcast. “Having not received a single touch of the ball through a 90-minute training session really knocked my confidence. But after two years of not playing, I picked myself back up and carried on doing what I love,” she says. “Despite playing for a number of clubs, I have experienced racist remarks from opposition team and fans, referees, even my own team on some occasions”.

Though this knocked her confidence, she didn’t give up. “ If I didn’t go through what I did, I wouldn’t be a supporting person. This allowed me to create a club and a team that caters for individuals who can openly enjoy playing football and have faced similar obstacles.”

Amina Ali had her parents’ support. “I had a mostly positive experience growing up. My parents would take me to play and would stay the whole way through games,” she says. “However, like every other Pakistani girl, I had extended family looking down on me and my parents, commenting on how ‘she has to get married one day, she can’t play football forever’. Despite this, my parents still encouraged me to play.”

Amina, 22, struggled trying to ‘fit in’ to some of her old teams. “I felt I could never have that sense of belonging. Some team players wouldn’t communicate unless they had to. I didn’t feel part of the team”.

Now Amina and Ikra both play for Phoenix Women’s FC, an all-girls team in Yorkshire, with up to 20 members.

Saira Tabasum discovered a love of boxing while studying at university. With the support of her family, Saira, 28, believes she had many doors open to do the best in anything she chose to do.

“I feel like being from an South Asian background didn’t really hold me back but worked in my favour as there was a great demand for female role models/coaches especially one from the same background as a vast majority of people in the local community,” she says.

“The only obstacles are the ones we inflict upon ourselves, such as overthinking about your ability to do your best and achieve goals and what others may or may not say”.

It’s 2019. Does this ideology of ‘women are supposed to cook and clean’ still really exist?

Saira says: “Who says Asian girls can’t play sports? Who says boys can’t be make-up artists and girls can’t be engineers and so many other misconstrued judgements?

“We can’t change the mentality of people straight away but we can bring about change by inspiring the next generation.”

Today South Asian women have become powerful figures in all arenas, like Pooja Jesrani becoming the first South Asian women to be appointed flight director at NASA, Rupi Kaur topping charts with her book of poems, Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet, making history wearing the cultural salwaar kameez on the steps of Downing Street.

There will always be a fight for women between tradition and modernity. Trying to live up to community expectations and holding onto the family’s “izzat” is the norm for some women, but there are some women who have took control of their lives, challenging these restrictive views that have too long been protected by a cloak of traditionalism.

This fight for change has allowed many South Asian women to embrace their dreams and aspirations like sports, and we should all take steps to continue this fight for our generation and the next.