Força Foundation News

Empowering girls through football during COVID-19 - without football

The COVID-19 pandemic affects women and girls differently than men and boys. We see that the pandemic and the restrictions put in place to tackle it increase risks to girls’ health and safety. This creates an even greater urgency for our work. We have focused all our work on continuing to train, support and inspire our leaders online or over the phone, to continue to create a valuable and safe space for girls. Coaches have been supported to continue to support and develop their players’ self-esteem, self-leadership and their physical and mental wellbeing. We have tried to do everything we can to make sure our girls still have support by their football coaches and in their football teams, throughout and after this period of crisis.

The extraordinary circumstances that we have faced and continue to face, and the measures put in place by our governments are all trying to slow down the spread of the virus. And, even with the best intention, this has consequences. Practicing social distancing, isolation or quarantine puts our coaches and their girls at increased risk of anxiety and stress, but also at financial hardship, and violence. We know that during crises, the risk of intimate partner abuse and violence, including sexual abuse, increase. This increases even more when we have to stay isolated, as has been noted across the world during the pandemic. When more girls move their socialising and hobbies online, their vulnerability also increases online, where girls are already at high risk of being subjected to sexual abuse. 

When everyone's attention has shifted towards the corona pandemic, we have maintained our focus and support on girls' physical and mental wellbeing, and have continued to offer information and support around sexual and reproductive health and rights. We have continued to raise awareness of unsafe sex, and in particular the increased risks of unintended pregnancies and HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and its consequences in a time where health care is difficult to access.

Additionally, school closures have left girls in enforced inactivity and with lack of oversight, leaving girls more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, sexual assault and rape. Increased vulnerability and economic hardship can increase the risk of girls engaging in transactional sex to support their family. Lessons learned from school closures during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia show that teenage pregnancies increased significantly, and few girls returned to school once the schools reopened. We have supported and motivated our girls to continue to study throughout the pandemic, and return to school once they open again, in places where schools have been closed. We have been focusing all our efforts on mitigating these risks to girls' health and future, even though our main communication channels - our football teams - have been on hold.

In a crisis, community is more important than ever. In this crisis, the nature of transmission has made it difficult to be close to the ones we love. Therefore, we have done our very best to stay in touch over phone, WhatsApp, Zoom and other platforms and continued to be a team. Through our networks of coaches we have been able to continue to empower girls, providing them with information and support to improve their physical and mental health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, while also spreading information about what we can do to slow down the spread of the corona virus – to play our part in flattening the curve of infections. 

COVID-19 Response Campaign
As a response to COVID-19, we launched the campaign “Your training sessions might be cancelled, but your team is not!”. This included a COVID-19 guide for leaders and support to all coaches in our global network around COVID-19 related risks and challenges, and how to address them. The purpose of the campaign was for all coaches to continue to provide a safe space and support in their football teams on a weekly basis, even when football training sessions were cancelled. Together with our coaches, we have provided video-based football training (‘Lockdown Sessions’), team talks through various social media channels, social-distancing meet-ups, and sms-support, as well as community radio campaigns, with continued information and support to promote girls' health and wellbeing, and especially sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Once restrictions were lifted, we also developed a guide for how to go back to safe training sessions during COVID-19, to use in areas where football trainings have been able to resume. We have had regular Zoom meetings for coaches, Facebook live sessions, and a dedicated WhatsApp number and channel for support to coaches and girls throughout the year. 

Online Training, Certification and Support
To continue to empower, train and support football coaches to create safe spaces for girls, even when their football training sessions have been cancelled, we moved our leadership training and support online in April 2020. Building on our lessons learned from several years of small scale digital leadership training for coaches, we now built a fully digital Coach Certification program. 

We transformed our founder Cecilia Safaee’s living room into a film studio, we launched our online certification platform at in English, French, Spanish and Swedish. The Coach Certification has leveraged our outreach and effectiveness with blended and bite-sized learning. Video-based self-paced content and reflective exercises have allowed participants to undergo the training at their own pace, while mixing it with live Zoom certification sessions held by our facilitators. The live sessions have enabled us to ensure quality in training by focusing on coaches’ understanding of and ability to apply our methodology and tools in practice, rather than knowledge-sharing as all theory has been moved to video-based content.

We have increased the overall quality in training of our coaches, and been able to provide individual tailored support to all coaches to a greater extent compared to at presential on-site trainings, by having smaller groups and more dedicated time and follow-up with every coach.
The interactive live-sessions have also enabled us to maintain strong connections within our network of coaches, enabling for participants to share their experiences and best practices with each other throughout training and post-training in our coaches’ network groups.   

During 2020, we have trained 70 coaches online from eight countries; Burundi, France, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Sweden, and Switzerland. Additionally, 223 people have registered and started the online training, to be completed in 2021. Despite a heavy focus on online training and COVID-19 restrictions, we have also been able to train all 950 coaches in Mozambique, and 49 new coaches in new districts in Zambia, making it a total of 999 coaches trained on-site in 2020.