Al-Ram (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – When Hanine Abu Mariam first refereed a men’s football match, she was overcome by fear, but her trepidation soon yielded to motivation to become a rare female Palestinian referee in international football.
Wearing a neon yellow jersey with a Palestinian flag on her sleeve, Abu Mariam was recently running the sidelines of the synthetic grass pitch in Al-Ram, a city between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
The 21-year-old said her interest in football began while studying sports at university, where she discovered a love of officiating.
Shortly after graduating, she became one of only two women to referee matches in the top Palestinian women’s league and the men’s third division.
“At first, I was afraid of making a mistake, but the head referee and other males colleagues helped me,” she told AFP.
Before each match, she diligently listens to the head referee’s pregame briefing, before stalking the sidelines for 90 minutes armed with her yellow and red checkered flag.
She currently works about seven matches per month at $30 each, the same fee as her male colleagues.
– ‘We trust them completely’ –
When the Palestinian Football Association first allowed women to officiate matches four years ago, there was backlash from conservative Islamic clerics.
Abu Mariam said her family, which lives in the small West Bank village of Burham, helped her persevere.
“My family has always helped me and encouraged me,” said the young referee, wearing a headscarf and long black sleeves under her jersey.
The associations’s chief referee, Ibrahim Ghrouf, said that 30 women are currently being trained to work as match officials.
“We trust them completely, of course. Women referees can do the job.”
The new trainees are following a trail cut by Hiba Saadia, the first Palestinian woman to referee international women’s matches, and Yasmine Nirokh, who officiates in international football.
Abu Mariam said she would like to work at the world’s most iconic stadiums.
“I dream of being a famous referee and I hope to reach an international level, but as an assistant referee,” she said with a shy smile.