Name: Amreen Kadwa
Job title: Executive director, Hijabi Ballers
Currently lives in: Toronto
Education: BA in economics and international development, University of Guelph
First job out of school: Youth rugby facilitator with TIRF (Toronto Inner-city Rugby Facilitator)
Two and a half years ago, when she was a university student, Amreen Kadwa suffered a serious injury during a rugby game that left her on the sidelines, unable to play competitively. Having played the sport since high school, her love for it went beyond the pitch: “It shaped me into the individual I am today and taught me so many valuable life skills,” she says. So she was determined not to let the injury deter her from participating in sports, even if she couldn’t play. “I still wanted to give back to the sports community and create opportunities, especially for Muslim girls and women,” she explains. Buoyed by the goal, she started Hijabi Ballers, a non-profit organization dedicated to making room for Muslim women and girls in sports.
As Kadwa has experienced first-hand, a hijab-wearing girl or woman playing sports is often met with shock or surprise. She’s been on the receiving end of microaggressions with comments like “YOU play rugby?” “I haven’t, thankfully, had any major negative experiences while playing,” she says. “I’ve always been very vocal about my love for sports, and I think that helped.” But not all Muslim women have been as lucky. “Many girls and women who perhaps are just learning how to play or are in a new environment often face challenging experiences due to a lack of understanding for their hijab,” she explains.
It’s why she’s focused on empowering Muslim girls and women to step out of their comfort zone by removing barriers that may be stopping them from participating in sports and helping increase representation, whether it’s in her hometown of Toronto, public sports spaces, sports media or social media. She’s fighting the stereotype that a hijab-wearing female lacks the athletic prowess of her non-hijab-wearing counterparts, and she also wants to encourage sports leaders and community members to do their part to support Muslim girls and women.
In July, Hijabi Ballers held its third annual sports festival, welcoming almost 500 attendees, and continues to grow within the Toronto community and beyond. More recently, it inspired the Toronto Raptors to offer team-branded Nike Pro hijabs, making it the first team in the NBA to offer an athletic hijab for Muslim women. “I hope that the organization can be what Muslim girls and women want it to be,” says Kadwa.