In Sydney’s Mona Park, one of the school-sports havens in the city’s west, girls from institutions across the city have converged for a gala day.
AFL, OZ-Tag and Soccer competitions are on the agenda. Typically what are brandished as “boy sports” are now finding new fans.
“I didn’t realise I’d love AFL so much, I’ve never played it before,” said student Serene Khalaf.
“It’s been great.”
A majority of the schools participating are Islamic Schools. Most of these girls are Muslim.
“I didn’t realise I’d love AFL so much, I’ve never played it before.”
A strong stigma surrounds Islamic women in sport – from inside and outside their own communities – with some sticking to traditional beliefs that a girl’s place is not on the sports field.
“Yeah I think there’s a misconception in terms of whether girls can or cannot play sport, especially with the Muslim community and multicultural communities,” said organiser Lael Kassem.
In April, claims surfaced that a teacher at an Islamic school in Melbourne banned girls from running over fears they would lose their virginity, allegations the school denied.
But girls at the gala day said that was not the view of the majority.
“That’s not right,” Ms Khalaf said.
Her friend, Jamilah Elmir, agreed.
“We’re all girls, whether we are Muslim or non-Muslim, so it’s the same thing…we don’t have different bodies,” she said.
“Yeah I think there’s a misconception in terms of whether girls can or cannot play sport, especially with the Muslim community and multicultural communities.”
For Islamic Communities to become more accepting, participants said the first lesson began at home.
“Initially my mum was a bit hesitant for me to play sport, but for all my brothers it was fine,” Ms Kassem said.
“But after she’s seen how much enjoyment I got out of it, the benefits, she was very supportive and understanding.”
Ms Khalaf said communities across the country, regardless of their backgrounds, should embrace a female presence in the sporting world.
“Every girl, no matter what religion or race, deserves the opportunity to play sport and have fun,” she said.