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Founé Diawara: Creating Sisterhood

About the Episode

In collaboration with Nike.

Founé Diawara believes in the beauty of community, faith, and soccer. When she was barred from playing professionally because she wore a hijab, Founé founded Les Hijabeuses. Today, Founé leads the fight for freedom on and off the pitch.

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Transcript

SEGMENT 1

Founé Diawara can’t remember the first time she got on the soccer pitch. As a kid, Founé was always outside, chasing a ball or going on some sort of adventure with her friends and family. She lived in a town called Meaux, along the river Marne in Paris, France. Founé loved growing up in Meaux. She was the second of seven children and everybody in the community knew each other. Founé especially remembers being surrounded by women and girls whom she admired a lot.

When Founé was fourteen years old, she discovered two important things about herself. After watching the Women’s World Cup in soccer, Founé realized that this sport was more than just a hobby to her. She felt so focussed and empowered whenever she was on the pitch. She loved being part of a team and working as a collective, driving down the field and launching herself towards the opposite goal. Founé registered to be a part of a soccer club. As she laced up her cleats before her first practice as a team member, she felt a shiver of excitement run from the tips of her toes to the top of her head.

The top of Founé’s head was proudly covered in a hijab, or Muslim headcovering. This was the second discovery that Founé made around this time. She was becoming more and more fascinated by Islam, the religion practiced by her family. She talked with other women who wore the hijab and decided she wanted to wear one too. She wrapped her hijab around her head and neck as a way to declare her religious beliefs. Doing this felt important to Founé as she explored what it meant to her to be Muslim and find a spiritual path.

Both soccer and spirituality meant so much to Founé. They were the two biggest parts of her identity. As she charged out onto the field with her cleats digging into the soil and her hijab catching a soft breeze, Founé felt strong and inspired; part of a fierce and fabulous sisterhood, and yet uniquely herself. 

SEGMENT 2

But all of that changed one day in 2015. Founé’s soccer team was headed out to play her first official game. Founé was thrilled to be taking the field in this new arena. She’d been practicing hard as an attacking forward and was determined to get at least one goal. Only – 

[SFX: WHISTLE]

Before Founé even had a chance to get into position, the referee called her over to the bench and told her she couldn’t play if she was wearing a hijab.

What? Why not?

The referee gave her no explanation. He just said that Founé did not have the right to play.

Founé felt confused and upset. How did this man get to make rules about the way she dressed? What did that have to do with playing soccer?

Founé refused to take off her hijab, choosing to sit on the bench rather than go onto the field. She was just fifteen years old, but she knew this was unjust. And she knew she had to change this situation not only for herself but for all women and girls.

SEGMENT 3

Founé soon connected with an organization called Alliance Citoyenne and a sociologist named Haifa Tlilli, who both wanted to bring awareness to this situation. Founé found out there were a lot of Muslim women who wanted to wear their hijabs while playing sports and they felt discriminated against and stifled by these rules. Founé and the Alliance Citoyenne did a lot of research and made a video on Instagram describing some of the prejudices they faced. Women started responding right away with personal messages of recognition and thanks.

Yes! I experienced this too!

I stopped playing because I didn’t know what to do!

All of these messages made Founé realize that she wasn’t alone. In fact, this issue was much bigger than she’d thought. So, she joined a group of women who were passionate about freedom of expression and together, they started a campaign called Les Hijabeuses. There were no rules except to respect each other, speak out, and have fun. 

But as they’d soon learn, Les Hijabeuses was about more than just having fun. It was about women’s rights, religious rights, and having a choice.

SEGMENT 4
Since they formally started in May of 2020, Les Hijabeuses has grown to include women from all walks of life. There are women who have never kicked a soccer ball or worn a hijab. They are still connected by a strong bond though — a bond of hope, courage, and determination. As Founé says, “We should not be afraid of talking because if we don’t, others will talk for us. But I think we — women and girls — know what we truly need better than anyone else, and it’s time to be left free to speak, express and decide for ourselves…When we come together we create beautiful things, so surround yourself with community and move forward.”Whether she’s practicing for a soccer match or organizing a human rights protest, Founé makes sure to celebrate the community of strength and support she’s helped create. She and Les Hijabeuses are true rebels who are changing this world.