A red card for gender discrimination – how football in Lesotho is leading the world

Women’s sport is growing significantly around the world, with the FIFA Women’s World Cup transforming the game in the eyes of the sport-loving public.
Broadcasters now see women’s football as a valuable part of their portfolio with the benefits of that new exposure stretching across the world.
Nowhere is this felt more keenly than Lesotho, which made history earlier this year when one of its top-flight football clubs, Kick4Life FC, became the first in the world to introduce equal pay for the men’s and women’s teams.
It was a move that Co-Founder Steve Fleming felt would ensure they are able to pursue gender equality more effectively in other areas of life – at home, in school, in relationships and in the workplace.
“We worked closely with others to support the creation of the first Women’s Super League in Lesotho and were one of the founding clubs,” said Steve.
“It’s been incredibly impactful with the Kick4Life Women’s team playing a key role in challenging gender inequality in Lesotho’s male dominated culture.
“Women are marginalised in various aspects of society, football being one of them, and by having this team we’re able to challenge that and break down stereotypes.
“As role models, the first-team players have been delivering the Girls United programme which teaches gender rights education, sexual & reproductive health education, and challenges gender-based violence.
“It’s been such a powerful tool for the organisation and for a while we’ve been thinking that we’re not living and breathing our philosophy if we’re not paying our teams the same.
“Men’s football is far more established, but this year with COVID-19 and the increase in gender-based violence, we felt that this was the right time to take a stand.”
The elite teams were founded just over a decade ago, but Kick4Life was set up back in 2005 after Steve and his brother Pete completed an ambitious challenge of dribbling a football across Africa for 250 miles.
Initially intended as a one-off fundraiser, the brothers saw the impact and potential of sport to engage vulnerable young people in Africa and set up Kick4Life as an organisation dedicated to do just that.
“We identified Lesotho as the country where we could make an impact,” commented Steve. “Lesotho has the second highest rate of HIV in the world (23.2%) and a love of football, so those two reasons gave us the opportunity to use football to address that crisis.”
There were no other sport for development projects in the country at the time, so Kick4Life were stepping into unknown territory as the first mission of its kind.
“We initially set up a health education and HIV testing programme that was very successful and Laureus started to support us in 2010 through funding these testing programmes, as well as our health and education curriculum,” Steve continued.
“Around that time, we then diversified our programmes quite significantly to move into more holistic support for young people, addressing things like gender equality, life skills development and employability.
“That coincided with setting up some social enterprises which helped to diversify our funding through income-generating businesses including a restaurant, hotel, conference centre and football teams.
“As well as contributing approximately 25% of our income, the enterprises have enabled us to provide training and employment opportunities for the young people coming through and lots of our participants have now gone on to establish careers for themselves.”
The current Kick4Life project supported by Laureus is Good Health & Wellbeing through Sport.
The curriculum aims to provide targeted health education specifically designed to engage and motivate young people around the most pressing challenges in Lesotho, including, HIV/AIDS, hygiene and sanitation, nutrition, drug, alcohol and substance misuse, and mental health.
The programme also includes significant components of gender equality and life skills development, which are critical in supporting the adoption of healthy attitudes and behaviours.
One of the beneficiaries of the Good Health & Wellbeing through Sport programme is Jason Naidoo, who completed the curriculum while enrolled with Kick4Life.
A talented footballer, Jason’s journey with Kick4Life began when he started attending coaching sessions and he was soon enrolled in the Kick4Life Academy, a programme focused on academic, sporting and character development, with the ultimate goal of supporting participants to life-changing opportunities at international universities.
The programme has helped secure fully funded scholarships in the USA for five young people, including the first two girls in Lesotho’s history to gain international soccer scholarships.
While in the Academy, Jason’s progress was held back by hearing loss sustained after an infection at a young age, and the Kick4Life team saw the need for healthcare support.
 “We ran a fundraising campaign to raise enough money so that he could have treatment on his ears and his hearing was significantly restored,” Steve explained.
“We’ve now been able to secure a scholarship for him to study at V.N. Naik School for the Deaf in Durban, South Africa, where he will access a top-class education specifically for young people with hearing impairments.
“Jason has continued playing football by representing the school and is still part of the Kick4Life Academy and joins our programming when he returns for school breaks.”
Jason explained: “I want to thank Kick4Life for supporting me. I am going to work hard at school so that I can pass. I will also work hard so that I make my family proud."
Like many organisations, Kick4Life have not been able to deliver their projects in the normal way since March with sporting activities not permitted.
Despite the difficulties, they were able to call on the support of Laureus to adapt how they delivered their programmes.
Steve added: “We applied to the Laureus Sport for Good Response Fund, a new fund created to help organisations overcome challenges faced due to COVID-19.
“Our application was successful and that enabled us to create animated versions of our content, as well as a series of videos using virtual coaches that has taken the curriculum from on the field and moved it into an animated online context.
“We’re doing community screenings where possible which involves going into local projects with some of our coaches and discussing the topics. We’ve had our coaches on national radio stations in Lesotho taking calls from listeners about the health topics covered.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to on-field delivery as soon as possible, but this will continue to be a part of our model going forward.”
More than 5,000 children and young people have now completed the Laureus-funded Good Health & Wellbeing through Sport project since 2018.
As a result of the project, 93% of participants increased their knowledge of how to avoid communicable diseases through improved hygiene practices, 84% have increased knowledge of HIV prevention and 83% demonstrated improved attitudes to the role of women in society.
The latter statistic is particularly prevalent given Lesotho is a patriarchal society that normalises gender inequality and many young boys and girls are unaware of the rights that women have in society.
The work of Kick4Life through the Good Health & Wellbeing through Sport project and their Girls United programme has helped to address these issues by empowering girls and young women.
In total, Kick4Life has helped over 200,000 orphans and vulnerable children with their work in the past 15 years and the organisation also offers a training service called Kick4Life Assist, as an additional social enterprise.
The programme aims to use their experiences in sport for development and social enterprise to provide training and educational services to other organisations and projects around the world using sport for social change.

Email Sign up

Email Sign-up

Sign up for all things Laureus

Get regular updates throughout the year