Jennie Browning is a friend of my older daughter’s. They attended school together at Murch, Deal, and Wilson (’02). After college, Jennie went to Senegal and worked for the United Nations and for the U.S. Embassy from 2008-2011. During her time there, she also started a non-profit organization, Ladies’ Turn (www.ladiesturn.org), dedicated to giving women and girls “their turn” to play soccer. The documentary film she worked on about her organization just won Best Feature Film at the London Feminist Film Festival this month. I thought you would be interested in her story. – Marlene Berlin
by Jennie Browning
In Senegal in 2009, women’s soccer was at a standstill; the teams in the National Women’s Championship League, the only women’s soccer league in the country, had not played a match for over a year. Women’s soccer in Senegal had essentially zero visibility. I heard about the frustrations from various players and coaches. I luckily met Seyni Ndir Seck, the captain of the national women’s team, and Gaelle Yomi, a young sports journalist. Together with these two young women leaders and other dedicated advocates like Seyni’s coach (of the national women’s team), we decided to do something. We started Ladies’ Turn.
To give a boost to women’s soccer, Ladies’ Turn organized a soccer season for the idle women’s national championship league teams based in Dakar. However, we also wanted to address the problem that girls had no opportunities to start playing soccer. We created the first beginner leagues for girls in Dakar and Saint Louis, a city in the north. Over 400 women and girls played in Ladies’ Turn matches, many for the first time. We chose central neighborhood fields so that communities would see that women could play soccer. Ladies’ Turn served as a catalyst for the official National Women’s Championship League season, which started up again one week after the Ladies’ Turn final event.
In 2011, I really felt the momentum of this small project we had worked so hard to create pick up. The U.S. Ambassador hosted our semifinal match and donated 1,000 balls. The Minister of Sport attended our finals event in a big stadium in Dakar- a first for women’s soccer, and the highlights of the matches were shown on national television. Helene Harder, a dear friend of mine and talented documentary director, traveled to Senegal to make a film on the 2011 Ladies’ Turn season. We were able to expand our beginner girls’ leagues to two new regions.
This summer, we premiered the Ladies’ Turn documentary in Senegal. Crowds turned out to view the film and celebrate the accomplishments of their neighborhood girls’ teams. Currently, the Ladies’ Turn documentary is being screened throughout Europe. We plan to premiere the documentary in the U.S. in early 2013. The three-minute trailer can be viewed here:
Now, Ladies’ Turn is planning its next tournament in 2013. Ladies’ Turn aims to expand to four new regions in Senegal, giving 400 more girls the chance to start playing soccer. Eventually, Ladies’ Turn hopes to be present in all of Senegal’s fourteen regions.
If you would like to support the Ladies’ Turn 2013 season and give a girl the gift of soccer, you can donate online at www.globalgiving.org.