KAMPALA, UGANDA — During halftime in the locker room, Faridah Bulega is fired up as she talks to her team, Kampala Queens.
“This is our home; they cannot defeat us on our own turf,” Bulega shouts, as the players clap and cheer.
She’s mentally preparing them for the second half of a game in the FUFA Women Elite League. FUFA stands for the Federation of Uganda Football Associations.
Bulega has been playing football since before she could even understand the rules.
“I started my football journey with the boys in my neighborhood,” she says. “We kicked a ball made out of banana fiber.”
At age 14, she had dropped out of school and was working as a taxi conductor. But she found a new life for herself in football. Over the last decade, she has been a player and a coach.
In 2015, she became the first female coach to lead Wakiso United, a men’s team.
“Coaching the men’s team was difficult in the beginning, because I was underestimated as a female coach,” Bulega says. “I was teased for about a month. Eventually, though, the players saw that I knew what I was doing from their personal knowledge about football.”
But after a year, she moved back to women’s football, coaching Kampala Queens. In September 2017, she was also named the head coach of Uganda Crested Cranes, the Uganda senior women national team.
Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda
Cultural and social obstacles for women in football are easing worldwide, and Uganda is no exception. Across the country, the sport’s popularity is growing among players, but fans and parents of would-be players aren’t yet convinced.
Women need to support other women players, Bulega says, citing that as the reason she moved back to coaching women’s teams.
“I strongly believe that female coaches should coach female teams, because we understand each other and the struggle,” she says. “This is our sport. We need to build it.”
Uganda Women’s Football began to emerge in the 1990s but has been met with ongoing challenges.
Though faced with few places to play and a lack of funding, the women’s sport has come a long way, says Margaret Kubingi, chairperson of Uganda Women Football Association.
She says women are playing football in secondary schools and universities and on informal fields throughout the country. The Women Elite League is in its fourth season.
“We want to train more women to take up positions in coaching, administration, as referees and in management,” Kubingi says. “The sport needs more female leaders if it’s to go to the next level.”
More women, and more money, Bulega says.
“We lack enough funding for exposure and to enable us excel,” she says, adding that girls have to walk farther to reach football facilities.
But the women who have made it to Bulega’s team say the struggle has been worth it.
“It is better for female coaches to coach female teams, because there are some personal things you cannot explain to a male coach,”says Cissy Nakiguba of Kampala Queens.
Bulega is the best female coach around, says Sylvia Nagawa, who retired as a Kampala Queens player and is now working alongside Bulega as a coach.
“When we both still played football, you could tell she was made to be a coach,” Nagawa says. “She could tell us what we were great at and how best to shine with our skills on the pitch.”
Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda
A lack of popularity among fans is one obstacle to development of the women’s sport.
At a recent Queens match, fans were scattered around the field, and most seemed engaged.
“It’s actually my first time passing through here,” says Joshua Mukasa, a football fan. “I had no idea women play football in Uganda and, more so, play so well.”
Bulega says she doesn’t pay much attention to naysayers and is focused on building the sport she loves.
“I have been lucky to have people supporting and believing in me during my football journey,” she says, adding that most girls who want to enter the sport face significant challenges.
Kampala Queens won the match, and Bulega was pleased.
“Today’s game is over with a victory, but the struggle for our sport still continues,” she says.