A few years ago, Arta Radio decided to start a women's football club to change the local perception of women's rights. Later, the team was crowned Syrian champions.
In 2013, ISIS was spreading terror across Syria, and the Syrian war was causing millions of people to flee their country. The country’s situation meant that women’s lives were increasingly restricted, and conservative, patriarchal norms even kept women from playing football in public. Then ARTA Radio – a community radio station in Amuda, northeastern Syria – decided to challenge local prejudices against women’s sports in the region and came up with a new initiative: to form the first ever football club for girls in Amuda.
Later, Amuda Girls Football Club won the first-ever Syrian national championship in women’s football:
“When we first had the idea, we used our position as a radio station to reach out to the community and convince parents to allow their daughters to join the club. At first some parents were skeptical, but at the same time, Syria was on fire, women couldn’t travel to go to university, and there was not much for people to do. This was a chance to do something fun, and after a while, girls started attending training,” says Vinda Gouma, who works as Grants Manager at Arta and is from Amuda.
Promoting women’s rights
As a mix between a media and development organisation, ARTA works to support women in the local community. With its main offices and studios situated close to the Turkish border, ARTA Radio broadcasts 11 hours of live programmes daily in Kurdish and Arabic, in addition to weekly programmes in Syriac and Armenian.
Besides promoting women’s sport in the region, ARTA also works to empower women journalists. Before the radio station began broadcasting, only very few women worked in the media industry in the region. Today ARTA Academy provides training for women reporters, and many of the reporters working for ARTA FM are women.
The first local platform
Before the radio station started broadcasting in 2013, local citizens would primarily rely on information from news media in the capital of Damascus, but it rarely covered the local context experienced by people in North Eastern Syria. Today ARTA Radio is the most popular radio station in the region, and it focuses on stories that are relevant to the local population:
“When we launched ARTA Radio, it was the first time for people in the region to have their own local media. People will meet our reporters in the street and start a conversation. On our programs the reporters will talk about local issues that are relevant to the locals: bad roads, high diesel prices, a local fire. These kinds of topics are important to people in the community. And at the same time we are highlighting local success stories,” says Vinda Gouma.
One of the most recent success stories was Amuda Girls Football Club’s sensational championship win a few weeks ago.
Playing their last match outside of Damascus in territory controlled by the government, the radio station couldn’t risk attending the match to cover their win, but when the team returned to Amuda in a bus passing by the radio station, the editorial team of ARTA had set up two large billboards showing a photo of the players to honour them for their achievement.
To Vinda Gouma the story of Amuda Girls Football Club is more than just a football championship win:
“Normally social change comes very slowly, and it’s difficult to measure the change. But with this result the change for women and girls in Amuda is very concrete. It sends an important signal to all women saying that; it doesn’t matter if you come from a village in the middle of nowhere. You have the ability to create change.”