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Ramallah: The first AFC Women's Empowerment Conference, which was jointly organised by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and the AFC, took place in Ramallah, Palestine, on July 15.

The event, with the slogan "Empowering women through football: 'YES WE CAN'", was attended by 67 predominantly female participants, including many female football players, coaches, club representatives, teachers, university professors, PFA board members and staff. 

The AFC gave an overview of the organisation’s social responsibility programmes and of the AFC Dream Asia Foundation: The AFC vision and mission states a commitment to use football as a tool for social development and to undertake effective social responsibility campaigns. One of the five pillars of the AFC Foundation is social inclusion, which includes gender equality through football.

Asian women’s football has had a lot of success on the world stage and the women’s game is an important focus for the AFC. The AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa stated: “We are proud of our women’s football record in Asia and the numbers of women and girls taking up football keep growing. Running football on the world’s most populous continent, the AFC has for a long time understood the huge growth potential women’s football has.”

The AFC representative outlined his experiences and impressions of women’s football development in Asia. He emphasised that even in traditional and conservative societies, women’s football is developing with the consent and support of the men. During a recent AFC mission to Gaza, the AFC was also assured by the leadership of the PFA Gaza branch that they support women’s football in Gaza, as long as it is played in accordance with the local traditions and culture.

The second speaker was the FIFA Corporate Communications Manager Honey Thalijeh, who is a former Palestinian national team player. In a passionate speech, she told the audience how she gained self-confidence by playing with the boys on the streets of Bethlehem and how football helped her to face the challenges of daily life under the Israeli occupation. Coming from a humble Palestinian background, Thalijeh landed a job at FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, thanks to her football career. She presented herself as a true role model for the young female football players in the audience, and a participant said: “If we listen to someone like Honey, we know that our dreams can come true.”

Following the AFC and FIFA presentations, the participants were split into working groups to discuss different topics such as women’s football in schools, women’s football in the region, engagement of girls in football, planning and coordination of women’s football, logistical problems, national team issues etc. Subsequently, the findings of each group were presented and discussed in the plenary meeting.

Mrs Hannadi, the PFA Head of the Women’s Football Department, emphasised that PFA will focus on women’s football activities in Gaza and other areas of Palestine. She added that a women’s coaching course is planned for Gaza, which will be conducted by an instructor from the Norwegian Football Federation. Recently a Norwegian U-16 girls’ team visited Palestine to play two football games against Palestinian girls’ teams. The visit was a big success as new friendships were made and contacts established. PFA welcomes any girls’ teams from abroad to visit Palestine to play football against Palestinian teams.

The women’s empowerment conference was a success and reached its goals, as the PFA Board Member and Head of the Social Responsibility/Fair Play Committee, Mrs Rada Rabah, said: “The girls grasped the idea to use football for empowerment and to use it in their community on all levels. They know now that they have the support of PFA and the AFC to develop women’s football and therefore, they are more confident to set their goals and priorities. They can do it and say 'YES, WE CAN'”.

Photos: Palestinian Football Association