Meet the 15-yr-old ‘young journalist’ from Chandigarh who uses sports to promote gender equality

Ananya Kamboj has been a ‘Young Journalist’ for the Football for Friendship Programme and has been invited to speak at the UN. The gender equality advocate is now starting her own programme to help women and girls fight inequality.

Ananya Kamboj is just 15 years old but her achievements outnumber her youth. The Class XI student is an author, a goodwill ambassador of BRICS countries, and is invited to speak at the United Nations’ ECOSOC Youth Forum this September.

She tells HerStory that she has also participated in various other empowerment projects like Girl Up, Girls with Impact, Lean In India, SDGs For Children, SDG Choupal, World Literacy Foundation, and She's Mercedes.

The teenager from Chandigarh credits the Football for Friendship programme for her achievements. In 2017, when India organised the U-17 Men’s Football World Cup, Ananya took part in a writing competition organised by Mission XI Million, an AIFF (All India Football Federation) programme promoted by Government of India to popularise football in India.

Ananya Kamboj, who has been part of the Football for Friendship programme as a Young Journalist. (Image source: Ananya Kamboj)

Ananya wrote an article about how football fosters friendships and global relationships. Her winning essay led her to be selected as a ‘Young Journalist’ for the Football for Friendship (F4F) programme in St Petersburg, Russia.

F4F is an annual international children’s social programme that brings together children from over 60 countries to cultivate respect for different cultures and nationalities through football. The programme, implemented by the Gazprom Company, is supported by organisations like FIFA, UEFA, the UN, the Olympic and Paralympic Committees, governments, and football federations of different countries.

Equality through sports

Ananya speaking with other delegates at the Football for Friendship programme.

Through her involvement in various programmes and empowerment initiatives, Ananya has become a vocal advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

A regular basketball and football player when she was younger, Ananya noticed how some sports coaches had been promoting the notion that girls can’t play sports.

“I was very offended when the coaches used phrases like ‘you are a girl’, ‘you are playing like a girl,’ and those kinds of statements. I thought we needed to demolish these differences between men and women,” says Ananya, who studies at Vivek High School in Chandigarh.

She credits the programme for encouraging her to take up advocacy for gender equality and quality education.

Ananya has now started her own programme called ‘Sports to Lead’ to help girls and women understand their rights and overcome gender inequality. The soon-to-be-launched initiative will use sports as a medium and include workshops and awareness sessions on how to fight discrimination and gender inequality. Ananya says that the programme will be funded by her father, who is also her inspiration to write.

In a cricket crazy nation, sports like football are just starting to take firm root with tournaments like Indian Super League, a club based national league just like the IPL. However, women’s sports, especially women’s football, still face challenges of lack of infrastructure, sexism, lack of contracts, fewer matches, low wages, a dearth of broadcast slots and lack of popularity.

To top it all, coronavirus might deal a final blow to women’s sports in the country. In its recent report, football union FIFPro said that women’s football faces an “existential threat” due to the pandemic, with the situation especially grave in India.

“Attaining gender equality is very important to encourage women and to get equal opportunities and rights,” voices Ananya.

Penning down her journey

Ananya with other children from different countries who were also part of the Football for Friendship programme. (Image Source: Ananya Kamboj)

It was a thrilling experience. We got to know about different nationalities, cultures, languages, and traditions. We were divided into teams and had to write on the nine values that are promoted by the programme, and file daily reports about football matches,” Ananya says about her F4F experience.

She adds that being part of the programme taught her to value journalistic ethics like writing authentic information and fact-checking.

Ananya recites the nine values like a diligent student – friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour. She has written about them in her book, My Journey from Mohali to St. Petersburg.

The book is an anthology of 21 stories that depict her journey in the F4F programme, and the values that the sport and the programme taught her. She counts the launch of her book in Moscow during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as her most proud achievement.

Ananya has been a ‘young journalist’ for the programme for the past three years and hopes to continue her passion for journalism. She even has a clear cut plan.

She wants to study journalism at the undergraduate level, and then enrol in FIFA Masters programme – an international sports management course. She wants to write for organisations like FIFA and the Olympics.

Ananya will attend the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum in September 2020 virtually to speak about the Football for Friendship programme and the values promoted by the programme.

Edited by Kanishk Singh


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