Hijab-wearing football club in Deep South: a space for diversity

 
The perception of Thailand’s Deep South region, called Patani by local people, is often known only for the conflict and violence that has taken the lives of over 6,500 people over the past 12 years. Both state and private funding pours in to resolve this violence through a peace process.
 
Nevertheless, Anticha Saengchai and Daranee Thongsiri, owners of the Buku Books & More Pattani Bookstore and LGBT activists, insist that Patani has no shortage of other social issues that need to be discussed, such as gender equality. Anticha and Daranee believe that women and LGBT people should have a say in the Deep South peace process so that they can participate in determining Patani’s future.
 
To further this cause, Anticha and Daranee have created a football club called Buku FC to provide local women and LGBT individuals a space to express themselves. 
 
Buku FC teammates at their first practice. Photo by Fadila Hamidong
 
“Football is seen as a male sport, and a space for men. Women often go to football fields with the role solely as spectator, cheering on men who are playing. But in actuality anyone, regardless of sex, can kick a round ball. By starting a football club and encouraging women to join, we are saying to Patani society that women can do the same things men do,” said Anticha to Prachatai. “We want to convey to the women who come to play with us is the idea that they really can do things they may have thought they couldn’t, such as self-expression and leadership. We believe that the simple activity of football will affect other parts of their lives.”
 
Anticha added although Buku FC encourages women and LGBT individuals to join, anyone can join regardless of sex, gender, age, religion, beliefs, and political views. The only requirement is that the person should view the world through a “Gender Lens,” or an understanding of gender.
 
“We intend the football field to be a microcosm of society, where people of any gender can coexist equally with respect for each others’ bodies and spaces. If it’s possible for that to happen in society at large, then we believe that it’s possible for our little rectangular football field, too. We want to demonstrate that whether man, woman, LGBT, or people with different levels of skill, we can all play the same game with the same set of rules, without the big people bullying the little people.”
 
Buku FC, under the slogan “Football for Peace and Equality,” had its first practice on 13 August 2016, at the Victory Stadium in Mueang district, Pattani Province. There were 20 participants, including 17 women and 3 men. Most of them are students at the Prince of Songkla University, Pattani campus. Everyone seemed excited to play in a formal stadium, especially the women, most of whom were playing football for the first time.
 

Hijabs and football? Compatible! 

 

Waeasmir Waemano and Sawani Mama, students at the Pattani campus of Prince of Songkla University, say that they want society to see that women can play football, and do so even while wearing hijabs. Photo by Fadila Hamidong
 
“People often view football as being a man’s sport, so women think that it is inappropriate to play football, and they don’t dare. In the Deep South, people think that it’s not appropriate for women to play football because it’s a sport that requires you to raise your legs to kick. However, the world is changing and socity in the Deep South must keep up,” said Waeasmir Waemano, a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Political Science in the Pattani campus of Prince of Songkla University, to Prachatai.
 
Although Waeasmir plays sports regularly since she is on the futsal team at her university, she still feels hesitant about playing outside of her university at Victory Stadium, next to which is a football field where the players are exclusively male. “If I play sports outside the university, I get strange looks from people, as they think ‘Huh, a Muslim woman playing football.’ People in the Deep South are concerned about the body and they feel it is inappropriate [for women to play football], because when we run, parts of our body shake,” she explained.
 
Sawani Mama, a third-year student at the same faculty as Waeasmir, expressed her concerns about the body and sports. She was afraid that others would judge her because it is inappropriate to run during football. Therefore, she solved this problem by wearing two layers of loose-fitting shirts and a hijab covering her entire chest. “Sometimes I still worry that while I run, my breasts will heave, or something like that. But I’m wearing loose shirts, a hijab, and even lipstick to play football. So I feel that all of these things go together, no problem.”
 
The two women agree that playing football is an activity that both promotes their self-expression, and is a way of telling society that women can play the same sports as men.
 
Asree Sama-ae, is one of the three men who came to the first Buku FC meeting. He volunteered to lead the warm-up exercises on that day, as well. Asree said that he participated because he wanted to understand LGBT people more.
 
Anticha added that, in order for the women to feel more comfortable playing, the men did not participate in the same game as them yet. They could practice together, with the men leading the warm-up exercises or acting as goalies. After everyone understands the rules and respects each other and the differences between their bodies, we may open a space for men and women to play in the same game in the future, she explained.
 

Deep South women lack spaces to exercise and take care of their health

 
Buku FC team-mates warm-up before playing football. Photo by Fadila Hamidong
 
Anticha stated that women in the Deep South do not have many opportunities to exercise. Part of it is due to gender roles and women’s responsibility to take care of the house, their husbands, and their children. Teenage girls also have to help their mothers with the housework, and it is less acceptable for them to exercise in public than it is for teenage boys. “Although women work hard, and use a lot of strength [while working], it’s not exercise. While we work, we might be stressed, but during exercise we get to relieve stress.”
 
Moreover, exercise often requires women to wear pants and move their limbs about in the same space as other men, discouraging Deep South Muslim women from exercising. Of course, men and boys do not have this limitation, said Anticha. Public parks and playing fields are almost completely taken over by men.
 
Anticha believes there should be more support to create female exercise spaces in the Deep South, such as female swimming pools, which will give women peace of mind as they exercise.
 
Team Buku FC is continually accepting new members, with practice every Saturday. In the future, they will also have a professional coach with experience coaching women’s football. In the next couple years, we may even see Buku FC compete in tournaments, said Anticha with a smile.
 
The story was published in Thai on Prachatai and translated into English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich. 
 
 
Read more about the Buku Books & More Pattani Bookstore and Deep South LGBT activism here: