When football challenges misogyny

An Indonesian programme taking a less travelled path to tackle gender inequity

When Hans Sraun grew up in Papua, a cluster of islands on Indonesia’s east coast, he had a completely different view of women than he does now. Gender equity was something he had never heard about, let alone experienced.

In the nineteen-year-old’s village, he learned to see men as superior across many aspects of life. Not only was football thought of as a sport belonging entirely to men, but he believed a woman’s role was to receive and follow orders.

“Where I grew up, women are not just seen as second-class citizens, it’s even lower,” explained Hans. “You could say third or fourth and so on.”

This dynamic was all he ever knew, so he never questioned it. That is until he moved to West Java’s capital Bandung and joined Pledge United.

Hans Sraun during a Pledge's United training session.

The programme from Inspire Indonesia, a football for good organisation, takes a less travelled path to help tackle an all-too-widespread issue. Young women in Indonesia face high rates of gender-based violence and nearly a quarter of all East Asian women are rape survivors according to a 2016 UNICEF study. The study also found half of first-time offenders of gender-based violence were teenagers.

Often, tackling gender inequity is framed as a discussion for women and girls. The focus is on equipping them with tools to create space for themselves in traditionally men-dominated sectors and navigate traumas.

While undoubtedly an important piece to the puzzle, Pledge United takes a different approach. Through football, the programme works with boys to challenge current notions around masculinity and reduce gender-based violence.

Twice a week Ryanado Tumbel, a Pledge United coach on the island of Lombok, heads to school to lead football practice. He consistently works with his players on football and life, building trust so he can present new ideas.

When he started introducing topics around gender equity, he recalls the first sessions feeling a bit odd.

“It was quite awkward,” said Ryanado. “This was the first time the boys heard about gender equality.

“They kept questioning why a coach is delivering these kinds of values at training.”

But after a few sessions, Ryanado felt a turn. He credits part of his success with being able to shift mindsets to Pledge United’s strategy to work with young people. Most of his players are open to seeing the world from new perspectives.

For Hans, it was one particular practice where a flip switched. His Pledge United coach proposed that his players should treat women the same way they want to be treated.

“That session touched my heart,” reflected Hans.

“I would say that was my moment of truth. That’s when I became firm in changing my mindset.”

Pledge United’s impact stretches far beyond Hans. The programme runs in 36 locations across Indonesia and is in India and South Africa as well. To date over 27,000 boys have been impacted in Indonesia alone.

Girls in Hans’ community have started noticing major changes thanks to Pledge United.

La, an 18-year-old student.

“Sometimes I think my friends got hit by a big wave when I see the difference in their behaviour,” said Oktavia Widiatul Aula “La”, an 18-year-old girl at Hans’ school.

Before the programme started working in her community, she remembers she and her friends feeling scared to walk in front of boys out of fear of being cat called constantly. 

But now she feels more comfortable and confident. Boys from Pledge United have started sticking up for her – telling the other boys to stop mistreating women.

“I feel like they would fight for me,” noted La. “I never thought this would happen before.”

Not all the boys in Hans’ circle have taken Pledge United’s lessons to heart though. Some still hold onto the same mindset Hans used to have. But the young footballer believes if he keeps doing the right thing, his friends will catch on to the importance of gender equity.

For Hans, shifting the culture he grew up around for the better isn’t just up to him. It requires everyone doing their part.

“I really hope that gender inequity will be resolved in Indonesia,” said Hans.

“It’s a big country with a big population and it takes everyone's contribution - men and women working together to revive this country. If men just think of their ego, then it will take forever.”

La agrees, highlighting the important role she sees a programme like Pledge United could play in her country’s future.

“I think Pledge United should be taught all over the country,” said La.

“I really want boys to see that girls can do anything. The only difference is our gender, but we have the same rights.

“The boys need to join this programme.”