Lala, 14, is not letting bullying and insults from boys stop her from playing soccer. Neither is her friend Milena.
Both girls live in Rocinha, one of the biggest shantytowns in Brazil. Both girls are obsessed with soccer. Thanks to Estrela Sports, a non-profit in the area sponsored by professional soccer player Elaine Nascimento, they can be part of a team, practice soccer and learn skills they can’t otherwise learn in their poor school system. So what’s the problem? They’re not entirely safe from the stigma that comes with playing soccer.
“The biggest stigma, which is still strong in Brazil, is that girls who play soccer are lesbians or will become lesbians by playing soccer,” says coach Guilherme Silva, who spoke with NPR. Why on earth do people think this? Because from 1941 to 1979 there was a ban that forbade girls from playing sports that were “considered incompatible to their feminine nature.”
Though the legal ban is gone, the social one is still in place…although there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. “They’ve stopped criticizing me some because I’ve improved a lot since we first started,” Lala says. “They respect me more now.”
And that’s a good thing because Milena can’t imagine her life without the sport. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t play soccer. I don’t just like it. I love it,” Milena says.
Lala echoes her sentiment. It’s not just about loving the sport though. It’s also about creating a safe environment for girls in a crack-riddled city. “I have a friend here,” Lala tells NPR. “She lives here in this neighborhood, a little bit higher on the hill. She’s 10 years old and she’s pregnant. I think if she played soccer, would she be pregnant right now?”
Learn more about Lala and Milena by reading the entire article here.
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