On the Ball for Women’s Rights

Professional soccer players compete for recognition of their athletic performance. But in other countries, women often have a much more fundamental motivation: Soccer can pave a way to a new life.

UEFA Childhood Foundation Girls Training Camp in Al Zataari, one of the largest refugee camps in Jordan. Photo via Dana Rösiger

Dana Rösiger works in Middle and Eastern Europe Media Relations at SAP. She is also an internationally recognized social photographer who has teamed up with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) since 2009 to promote women’s rights and improve the visibility of women’s soccer. Recently, she launched a project to give these women a face.

Q: In the last two years, you and your NGO Equal Playing Field have portrayed record-breaking soccer games on Mount Kilimanjaro and at the Dead Sea. #kickitlikelira is your latest international project. What are you hoping to accomplish and why did you choose women’s soccer?

Setting up at an altitude of almost 6,000 meters on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Photo via Dana Rösiger.

Rösiger: I want to give women soccer players a face. I want to show what young women can achieve through soccer. My interests go far beyond the mere athletic aspect. As a passionate photographer, I want to shine a light on the stories behind the players on the field. In many countries around the world, it isn’t accepted by society for women to play soccer. Still, the sport may enable underprivileged women to step away from a challenging situation and change their lives.

In countries like Germany, women’s soccer is about recognition and perception. I want women’s soccer to be presented positively and give the players a platform through my pictures to show what they achieve – even without the financial leeway that the popularity of men’s soccer provides.

How do you convey this idea in your pictures? How does a “social photographer” work and what is your take on this role?

I mainly focus on women’s rights and human rights. My photographs capture moments in the lives of underprivileged people in developing countries or from difficult social backgrounds and advocate for a world in which girls and women can play sports without being discriminated against for any reason. I strive to combine the aesthetics and expressive power of photography with the goal of letting the world know about social, ecological, and economic injustices.

What was your motivation for creating the #kickitlikelira photo exhibition?

A soccer natural in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo via Dana Rösiger.

#kickitlikelira aims to embolden and inspire to demonstrate the strength behind the liberty of following your dreams as a young woman and to master the challenges with a fighting spirit. “We’re all equal on the playing field” is the slogan of the initiative, which consists of a photo exhibition and a social media campaign.

The photo exhibition is currently concentrating on German professional and amateur athletes, but the accompanying social media campaign aims to reach less liberal countries as well. Its goal is to pass the virtual ball to girls and women around the world and have a positive influence on their lives – with emotional photos, motivational quotes, moving stories, and thrilling video formats.

What’s next on your list?

I’m off to the south of France for the world’s longest soccer game, where 3,500 women players will keep the ball in motion for five full days.

Will you be taking the field, too?

Soccer isn’t really my sport personally, but I’ll play goalie for ten minutes for this game. I prefer to stay behind the camera the rest of the time.