The following is my Author’s Note from the upcoming Play Like a Girl. To read more, pre-order it today!
It bothers some foreign visitors that the people at Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA) refer to the high school students as “girls.” Many teenagers in Western cultures are called young women or ladies, considering that seniors in high school have usually passed the age of girlhood.
But just ask the KGSA students what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a woman. Ask them which they feel like. Ask them when they think girls become women in their culture, in Kibera, in their tribes, in their religions, and in their own minds and bodies. The students want to be girls. Some of them were taught that they become women when they start menstruating, but they don’t buy that. Some imagine they will become women when they become mothers, but they aren’t ready to grow up just yet. The students want to be called girls because they are girls. They want four years at KGSA to learn, grow, play ball, and study.
These girls are mature for their age. Some are orphans who care for siblings. Others are pressured by parents to lift their entire families out of poverty. This heavy responsibility makes them grow up quickly. At too young of an age, they have to wise up to the ways of the world, the pressures of poverty and boys. They will take the responsibility because they have to, but they know they are still girls. They are in no rush to become women. In a sense, these girls are fighting for their girlhood in a way that females in other cultures have been fighting to be taken seriously as women. Here, in this story, they are honored to be called girls. They are warriors, they are survivors, and they are girls. They want to safely act their age and claim their womanhood in their own time.
So girls it is.