M.A.L.I.’s campaign transforms the World Cup’s first-ever female referees and their whistles into messengers of change
Posted on 2022 Dec,06  | By ArabAd's staff

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Football is still considered a men’s game in most parts of the world. However, this year in Qatar, history was made, as three women have stepped into this male-dominated field. Stephanie Frappart, Yamashita Yoshimi, and Salima Mukansanga are the first-ever female referees to take charge of a men’s FIFA World Cup match.

M.A.L.I. (Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertés Individuelles) thought to use this unparalleled achievement to hijack the World Cup conversation with its new campaign “Refs for Change” launched on the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism against Sex-Based Violence, an initiative that enables these female referees to go beyond football itself and become messengers of change across the world.

Every time one of the female referees blows the whistle during a World Cup 2022 match, M.A.L.I. tweets in real time to highlight women who have pioneered and succeeded in other male-dominated fields.

“Every day, women across the world make great strides and pioneer in different fields for a long time reserved only for men. At the same time, women across the world are subjected to different types of violence. The press often turns a blind eye, causing both groups to remain largely unknown”, M.A.L.I.’s spokesperson and activist Ibtissame "Betty" Lachgar pointed out, while talking about the significance of this initiative. “Being pioneers themselves, the first-ever female referees in a men’s World Cup have the unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women through the power of their whistle. They can make sure this message gets heard loud and clear on the biggest of all stages,” she added.

But the Tweets go way beyond just raising awareness about these facts. They invite the Twitter audience to take part in a healthy social debate about women’s rights, sex-based discrimination, male violence, women’s reproductive rights, women in science and technology, and female education; and serve as donation boxes, thereby furthering the cause of women’s empowerment and women’s rights achievements across Morocco and the MENA region. By tweeting in real time, the spotlight is turned from men to women who’d otherwise never get the world’s attention. 

A referee’s most powerful tool is the whistle. It recognizes goals, offsides, red and yellow cards, fouls, penalties, corners and makes the world’s biggest stars stop in their tracks or run again to score and shine. It can keep entire nations on the edge of their seats, sending shockwaves down the stadium benches, TV channels and living rooms of countries across the world. Yet, while this whistle holds immense power on the field, there’s another kind of whistle that is used by women off the field for an even more impactful purpose. A whistle that is largely unknown and that we wish we didn’t need: the symbolic “feminist whistle” used by women to draw attention to themselves in case of an imminent threat from sexual predators.

“Transforming female referees and their whistles into messengers of change is a powerful way to hijack the conversation during the World Cup and shine a spotlight on striking statistics that would otherwise remain in the shadows”, said Walid Kanaan, Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\RAAD. “It’s the third consecutive year that we partner with M.A.L.I. to let creativity serve bigger causes. By launching “Refs for Change” and showcasing achievements of women across Twitter’s social conversation, this year we are aiming to have a bigger reach”, added Alex Pineda, Executive Creative Director of the same agency.