Cameroonians take pride in football as a source of national unity but women have not always been included in the equation. 16-year-old footballer Lamine Mana is shifting that narrative.
By Leocadia Bongben, Bird Story Agency.
“When I gave her my first allowance from my first outing with the national team to the Tokyo Olympic Games, mama was shocked,” said Lamine Mana, describing her mother’s reaction to her professional footballing income, during an interview at her side’s hotel in the Melen neighbourhood of the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé.
The striker for the national Under-20 side is just 16 and something of a national hero. With several seasons of league action under her belt and previous outings with the national U-17 squad, she was part of the team that beat Gambia 10-1 on aggregate to qualify for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. Hotel rooms and regular pay as a professional footballer are normal for her. Not so, her mother.
Her mother’s incredulity at her paycheck, however, might be forgiven. Growing up in Ngaoundere, a predominantly Muslim community in the Adamawa region, Mana struggled with actualizing her love for soccer. In addition to the cultural stigma of women in sport, there were plenty of other hurdles, some social, some systemic and some even built into the sport itself, that she had to face. Many of these are issues that women around the world continue to face, at almost every level, in almost all sports. So, the idea that a young girl might be able to earn a living from sport might have been difficult to appreciate. But Mana’s mother had previously also made things difficult for Mana. Intentionally.
“[During match days] I locked her in the house in the morning and opened only in the evening to stop her from playing,” said Hawah Sani, Mana’s mother, speaking of her early reaction to her daughter’s obsession with football, from her home in Ngaoundere.
She may have thought she was doing her daughter a favour but Sani almost stopped Mana’s further progression as a footballer right there. Mana herself shrugs off the early interference.
“[For] as long as I can remember, I have always loved football, and seeing children run behind the ball was awesome,” Mana said.
“Football is my passion, I started playing for fun, with other male children and [then] later in school,” she continued.
What to Mana was simply following a passion, was to others a folly, or worse. People like her mother went to extremes to prevent her from being ‘an anomaly’ in the community. In the end, it was Mana’s father’s dying wish that forced her mother to see things differently.
“Two days before his passing, my husband summoned my daughter, and said, ‘I know you have a good future with your football. Take care of your siblings.’ That is when I changed my mind,” Sani explained.
Mana was relieved at her mother’s change of heart.
“She started buying me boots!” she said.
Sani for her part was astonished at how well her daughter played.
“The first time I saw my daughter play, I was surprised. She is a star in the town. When she goes to her former school, there is a commotion as everyone wants to see her,” her mother said, her voice charged with emotion.
After that point, there was no stopping the young striker. She has played for Cameroon’s top-flight women’s clubs like FAP of Yaoundé where she scored 9 goals and made 6 assists in the 2020-2021 season. She currently plies her trade for top-flight team AWA FC.
Her young age and huge talent have not only put her in the spotlight within the footballing community but also, nationally, Consequently, she is changing attitudes and inspiring other girls in her community.
“When I went to my former school, Lycée Technique de Ngaoundere, the principal told me that some girls who played handball decided to play football to follow my footsteps,” Mana narrates.
“Lamine is my star, I want to play like her. I have begged my mother to talk to Lamine for her to help advise me,” says one young footballer, Adama. Adama’s mother concurred.
“I want my daughter, Adama, to play football like Lamine,” she said.
According to the assistant women’s national team coach, Anong Bernadette, parents should support their daughters to pursue their dreams.
“The girl-child can make it in female soccer,” she said.
“FIFA is trying to sensitize many countries, and in a few years, many Muslim and Arab countries will be hosting and allowing their girls to play football,” Bernadette added.
Mana’s inspiration to young girls comes from more than just her footballing skills, however. As she continued to realize more success on the pitch, she also assumed the role of breadwinner in her home. From her football, she can pay rent and school fees for her siblings. Young women everywhere, are taking note. And Mana’s mother is more supportive than ever.
“All I ask today is that the Almighty should help my daughter go further,” Sani said.
“Now she understands we get allowances in the national team,” Mana chuckles.
Cameroon joins the world to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th to #BreakTheBias. We celebrate Lamine Mana for what she has done to #BreakTheBias in her community and empower young adolescent girls through her football pursuits.
Source: Bird Story Agency / Cameroon.