Kickstarting a change: how AFLW empowers young girls

Kinderling News & Features

On a bright and sunny day in February this year, Australian women made history.

The first ever women’s AFL national competition was launched at Princes Park, Victoria, to a crowd of 24 500. In fact, 2000 people were locked out because officials were concerned about overcrowding.

Chyloe Kurdas, a pioneer for the women’s league, was instrumental in getting the AFLW off the ground, but it wasn’t an easy process.

“There was no one who thought we could do what we did,” Chyloe says. “It was pigeon holed as being a niche market, that girls didn’t want to play, their parents didn’t want their girls to play, the obviously negative sexuality stereotype comments around women and girls who play sport, no marketing opportunities, no main stream media interest. We had to systematically account for all of those oppositional points of view.”

Listen to Chyloe on Kinderling Conversation:

As a young girl Chyloe discovered that not only was she good at sports, she loved AFL. But she also knew she would never get to play professionally. For Chyloe that first AFLW game is etched in her memory.

“It really was quite surreal, this has been my life’s work. When I was a five-year-old girl and I realised I was never going to play at the top level, the pain, the frustration, the anguish around that was really tough. I realised it wasn’t just that football door that was closed to me, there were so many others doors that were closed to me because I was a female… being able to get the AFL to treat women equally, the impact of that will mean that we influence Australian culture more broadly because of the power of what the AFL is.”  

Chyloe has been training girls how to play AFL for many years, and she’s seen it change the way they feel about themselves physically and emotionally.

“What we’re taught from a very young age is that our bodies will break if we use them in a very robust way,” she notes. Boys, on the other hand, are told that being robust and physical will be the making of them.

To begin with, Chyloe says that the girls’ number one fear is tackling. Once they’re shown how to do it properly, it’s a completely different story.  

“Ask all the teenage girls that play what’s the thing you love about the game the most and they’ll say the physicality, they just love using their bodies, and it’s something they’ve never really been given permission to do. The thing about tackle sports is that your body is valued for what it does, not what it looks like.”

Emotionally, Chyloe says AFL gives girls confidence and resilience. It teaches them to get back up after they’ve been knocked down and it gives them courage.

That day, back in early February, many Australians were surprised at the huge turn-out for the AFLW.

“What does that say about our collective understanding of the capacity of women and girls? All we did that night was open one door and look what flooded in! My question now is, what doors are closed? What other capacities and potentials are we missing out on because doors are closed?”