The Jakarta Post
“Girls don’t play around.”
“Sit still, girls.”
“Girls should stay inside.”
“[Insert any martial art] is not for girls.”
These are among the many phrases that I often heard during my school years back in the 1990s-2000s.
Some of us were lucky enough to have supportive parents who allowed us girls to explore our best, especially in sports.
But most of us were not, which was simply an affront to those of us blessed with kinesthetic intelligence.
We live in Indonesia, where a patriarchal tendency is still the norm. But it really is time to change the narrative, and this takes all of us. To have a healthy life is a basic human right, and sport is the proper platform to achieve this.
My heart is broken every time I hear little girls who are passionate about playing soccer, basketball or martial arts — having been inspired by movies like Kung Fu Panda or Karate Kid — but are unable to take part in them because their parents forbid them from doing so, citing nonsensical “ladylike” excuses.
To keep our girls away from enjoying sports is equal to depriving them of access to the sunlight’s vital vitamin D, fresh air and physical activity — basically all things healthy.
Do we not all want them to stay healthy and do their best in any field?
Back in the day we had Indonesia’s first Olympic gold medalist Susy Susanti in badminton, its highest ranked tennis player in the world at 19th Yayuk Basuki and Asia’s first female shooting athlete Lely Sampoerno — the “bad-ass” trailblazers.
In women’s soccer, Indonesia’s national team won Asian Cup titles in 1977 and 1986, as well as the ASEAN Women’s Championship in 1982 and 1985 — those achievements are not to be dismissed.
Today Indonesia has no regular competition for women’s soccer, and we are at rock bottom.
But I find hope in Zahra Muzdalifah, an 18-year-old striker for the Indonesian national soccer team, as the new someone-to-look-up-to in women’s soccer in the country.
If not for the 2018 Asian Games at home, the country might still be hesitant about seeking female talent in the sport and forming a national team.
Without a clear path for the national women’s soccer development program, it is unsurprising that the Indonesian squad could not make it into the knockout round in the Games.
The Indonesian women’s team did not survive the group stage — it won 6-0 against the Maldives but lost to semifinalist South Korea 12-0. Meanwhile, the men’s team, born and raised in a sustained and popular national league, exited after the round of 16, losing 4-3 in a shootout against the United Arab Emirates.
Captain Zahra and her teammates may have a long way to glory. But it is her and other girls’ “badass-ness” — passion and hard work — that will count the most.
Zahra started her sporting activity through futsal at 7 years old before turning to soccer. In her first soccer academy, Zahra played alongside boys and the situation continued in another academy — simply because there was no girls team.
She survived nevertheless, and she has a long run to see what the future may offer.
“In 2013, when I was 12, my team [from Jakarta-based Asiop Apacinti soccer academy] won the Norway Cup in Norway — I was the only girl in the squad at that time — the JSSL tournament in Singapore and the Tiger Cup in Malaysia,” Zahra said in a video interview with Detik.com.
After the 2018 Games, Zahra was even surprised herself when she heard a club in Sweden was interested in her and offered her a trial — a rare thing for a female player who has not played in a domestic league.
Earlier this year, Zahra was among the players representing Indonesia competing in the top-level AIA Championship, an annual set of tournaments hosted by the insurance company of the same name, especially in the first edition of the women’s competition.
Indonesia finished as champion, which led to the squad sharing a training session with England’s Tottenham Hotspur women’s team. The company sponsors top-flight Tottenham Hotspur in the men’s league.
The championship may be small in size, but it has provided opportunities.
On July 31, the Indonesian Olympic Committee launched the Women in Sports Foundation, which emphasizes the country’s stance on supporting women’s sports and female athletes.
It is in line with Olympic Charter’s agenda that, among other goals, pushes female representation and gender balance in sports. Such values are also promoted by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The foundation may start from raising awareness among the domestic audience on the issue, but it has so much potential to become an influential force at the world level.
Once again, what human beings need to grow is opportunity.
Indonesia is moving in the right direction with Law No. 3/2005 on the national sports system, which guarantees its people the best access to sports — from the recreational to the elite level.
But what we still lack is affirmative action, which should be well-represented in laws and regulations and receive social support, in catering to women’s and girls’ needs.
As a start, let us drop the passive-aggressive behavior, like “Girls, may you have your best achievements in sports, as long as you don’t forget your kodrat [natural destiny].”
Indonesia is known for its version of kodrat, which regards a woman’s main role as domestic responsibilities and child care.
Trust me, women — including female athletes — know their natural destiny is not so limited and neither is that of men — who can and must take care of the children too.