Beyond Football: Shreeja India and the SI Road to Equality

Written by Ayushi Kundu, Co-ordinator for the SI Road to Equality

As a part of the Soroptimist International President’s Appeal for 2019-2021 ‘The Road to Equality’, Soroptimist International has launched its newest collaboration with Shreeja India: ‘BEYOND FOOTBALL’.

In India, even if village girls enrol in schools as children, around 63.5 percent of them leave school during adolescence. Almost 27 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 years and 70 percent of girls suffer abuse in different forms across the nation.

Scholars and policy makers agree that a lack of female agency remains a key hurdle in women’s education and subsequent empowerment in India. These conditions are especially true for indigenous girls who are deprived of access to education, nutrition, health and livelihood opportunities for decades. While literacy rates of Scheduled Tribe (ST) males in India is 69 percent, that of ST females remains significantly lower at 48 percent. All these findings clearly indicate that we are failing to generate and nurture demands and aspirations of indigenous girls. They live within social systems where parents, siblings, teachers and community members are not supportive of their education. Far from the exposure to opportunities of growth, these girls still do not understand the meaning of having an ambition in life. Due to their social status, they often fall prey to early marriages, abuse and trafficking. Hence, they need additional support to engage and enrich their various skills to succeed in life. They require mentors to guide their educational progress to help them recognise their potentials and continue pursuing a life promising self-respect and dignity.

Shreeja India’s Beyond Football programme empowers girls from less privileged rural populations through sports-based out-of-school education. In the process, the endeavour works to:

  • Stop school dropouts
  • Prevent child marriage, trafficking and abuse
  • Promote sports as a tool for social development
  • Increase girls’ self-awareness and foster leadership
  • Impart life skills to make girls self-reliant
  • Improve physical and mental health


The present proposal is concerned with replication of the Beyond Football Programme in Purba Burdwan district, West Bengal based on local demand. The Beyond Football programme intends to ensure survival, protection and empowerment of the girl child.

Photo: Ayushi with one of the youngest players of the team, Anushka Sarkar, who is 6 years old and claims to be the best player in the team! She was enthralled by the Road to Equality brooch!

Beyond Football is a balanced approach in imparting intense football coaching as well as out-of-school learning to indigenous girls aged 10-18 years. The football practice enhances their physical abilities and develops confidence in life. The physical strength and confidence acquired on the football ground is reflected during out-of-school learning and enhances academic performance. Special theory classes and audio-visual sessions are to be organised at the academy for the girls as part of the Football coaching, which will help to improve their training as players and connect their play with overcoming daily struggles of life.

The bond created on the field whilst playing also equips the girls to fight social evils such as early marriage, abuse, trafficking and violence against women as one social faction.

Here are five instances how Shreeja’s Beyond Football programme helps to improve indigenous girls’ quality of life:

  • Confidence Building: Many indigenous girls lack confidence in life and intense practice on the field makes distinct contributions to confidence-building as they mature.
  • Controlling the Territory: During the Football strategy class, girls are taught to control individual territories to stop the opponent passing the ball, and winning on the field is often translated to overcoming daily struggles.
  • Awareness of Surroundings: During the skills development class, girls are instructed to constantly look up and see the changing positions of their team mates. This awareness helps them to judge their own positions in adverse situations envisaged in real life.
  • Cooperative living: Football is a team game. Shreeja India encourages the players to practice love, affection, acceptance, hugging and pats on the shoulder to adopt the practice of sharing and caring with friends in real life.
  • Off-the-Ball Strategy: In a 90-minute Football match, any girl touches the ball for a few minutes only. The rest of the time she runs to find unguarded positions on the field. This ‘Off-The-Ball’ tactic helps them to look for opportune moments to achieve goals in life collectively.

Programme Impact:

Immediate Impact:

  1. The programme will benefit more than 200 girls to become aware, confident and goal directed in life.
  2. There will be a significant reduction in the incidence of school dropouts, early marriages and other social evils prevalent in the community.
  3. The programme will assure equitable access to opportunities and education for the deprived section of indigenous girls.
  4. Digital learning will help the girls to enjoy enriched exposure to the outside world.
  5. There will be a noticeable improvement in overall health and fitness of the girls.
  6. The programme will identify and foster talented women Football players, who will then be provided with opportunity to develop into professional athletes.


Long term Impact:

Shreeja India’s Beyond Football programme will produce four categories of young girls in the long term:

  1. Category A – Girls who are more inclined towards the sport and play well, will be offered opportunities for special training in the country or abroad, to maximise potential to become professional players.
  2. Category B – Girls more inclined towards academic careers. Care will be taken so they are able to pursue higher education or professional courses and follow their interests.
  3. Category C – Girls who are not inclined either towards sports or academia, but have interest in pursuing vocational courses will be supported towards skills upgrading so that they can earn their own livelihood.
  4. Category D – Girls who show equal interest in more than one field, will be fostered to pursue multiple fields simultaneously.

Soroptimists can now support the Beyond Football programme by donating funds to the Soroptimist International President’s Appeal.  Please donate through your own Federations.

Visit here for further information.


Photo: SI President’s Appeal Coordinator Ayushi Kundu with the BEYOND FOOTBALL team at Dhatrigram


On 6 February, 2021, SI President’s Appeal Coordinator, Ayushi Kundu, visited the site of the Beyond Football project in Dhatrigram, in Burdwan District, where she met with some of the girls who have been inducted into this programme. Here are some inspiring stories from her visit.


Mr. Raghunath Murmu (Raghu) hails from Dhatrigram. His passion for Football was ignited at a young age, when he regularly played the sport with other boys in his village. However, unlike the rest of his playmates, Raghu’s passion and talent took him places… literally! He started playing in the East Bengal Football Academy, and became a part of the Under 17 team which represented the Academy regionally, at the state level, and thereafter nationally. He then participated in the Manchester United Premier Cup, which is a global youth football tournament, where he represented India in the Asia Finals held in Thailand. His team became the champions. He then travelled to Manchester, UK, where the World Championship is held, and thus got the chance to play at the famous Old Trafford, home to Manchester United Football Club.

Photo: The Coach of the BEYOND FOOTBALL team in Dhatrigram, Mr. Raghunath Murmu

Raghu is now 28 years old, and has returned to his village, as he thinks he is not physically fit enough to carry on playing professional football. However, he dedicates his time to train our girls under the Beyond Football programme, and our girls are instilled with confidence and motivation under his coaching!


Sonali is a local of Dhatrigram, and along with her sister Shiuli, has been playing football since they were both very young. She studies at the Dhatrigram Girls’ School, and during most of her free time, trains in football, which was first introduced as a sport as a part of her school’s physical education curriculum. She has not only mastered the game that is dominantly known as a man’s sport, but she has now been selected to train in the East Bengal Football Academy.

Photo: Sonali Soren: Pictured first from the left, in the red and yellow jersey, which are the colours of the East Bengal Football Club a professional football club in West Bengal, India



Like Sonali, Baishakhi is also a local of Dhatrigram, and is a part of the BEYOND FOOTBALL team. Since she was a young child, she would play football with the boys in her locality, being the only girl in the team. However, unlike Sonali who receives ample support at home to go out and play the sport, Baishakhi faces tremendous resistance at home. Her parents and family members endorse the view that a girl’s place is inside the household, and a sport like football should be played by boys.

Initially, they refused to let her come out and play. Whilst their resistance seems to have faded recently and they do let her come out on the fields and play and train with the rest of the girls, they do not offer her any other form of support, such as money to buy her football boots and jerseys. However, she says that some of the teachers from her school and a few neighbours always encourage her to play, which is why she keeps on going. When Ayushi asked her, what drove her to play football despite the resistance she faced, Baishakhi answered: “Football is my life, football is my everything!”


Photo: Baishakhi Murmu, one of the players in the BEYOND FOOTBALL team at Dhatrigram



Unlike Baishakhi’s family, there are some parents who offer complete support to their daughters to play football. For example, Mr. Mono Soren, who initially enrolled his daughter into the BEYOND FOOTBALL programme, and would bring her to the field everyday to play, and watch as she engaged with the rest of the team. He himself had been involved in this sport in his heydays. Seeing his daughter enjoy the game he loved so much is all the encouragement he needed, and he has now joined the BEYOND FOOTBALL team as its referee!

Photo: The Referee, Mr. Mono Soren (left) and the Coach, Mr. Raghunath Murmu of the BEYOND FOOTBALL team at Dhatrigram


Visit the Road to Equality Page to find out more about the Appeal HERE

Don’t forget to catch up with SI Voices Webinar ‘Ending Child Marriage on the Road to Equality’ to get additional insight into the Beyond Football Programme now available on YouTube! HERE

(Lead Image: Ayushi with some of the girls, who were very excited to take a selfie!)

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