What Mothers Need – And It’s Not Empowerment

What women need - and it's not empowerment

I should be so fortunate to sit next to Ofra Abramovich at a Vibe Israel dinner at Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel. She made an impression on me with her quiet confidence, sweet voice and strong convictions. In 2005, Ofra approached the mayor with an idea — she wanted to create a sporting league specifically for mothers.

“There is no such thing!” she was told.

“The word ‘league’ and ‘mothers’ don’t go together!” they said.

But Ofra didn’t give up. She fought for this idea because she believed strongly that mothers in Israel needed an outlet, something for themselves. Over a decade later, and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of mothers — we are talking over 16,000 players — in Israel participating in a game called Mamanet, which is like volleyball except rather than hitting the ball, you catch it. This makes it easy to jump in and get started so “every mother can” play, as their motto goes. The competitive teams are linked with children’s respective schools, so there’s a heavy community aspect that makes the game so successful. The sport is now global, with a total of thirteen countries running the league.

A mother from Italy — one of the countries who run the league —  said in an interview that she was hooked immediately. She explained that while many mothers do various sorts of exercise like yoga, bike riding and running, it is challenging to participate in group sport. However, Mamanet is designed by mothers, for mothers, and played by mothers — and revolves around community, so not only is it achievable, it adds value to family life. She said participating in group sport means you can:

  1. be competitive and part of a team;
  2. contribute in your local community;
  3. have fun and make friends;
  4. be a good role model to your children.

What blossomed from this league is rather astounding. You see, when mothers invest in themselves within a community setting, everyone in the family (and beyond) benefit. However, it had to start with a rule. “The first and best rule,” Ofra calls it. “The first rule you have to know about Mamanet, is the mothers are playing, and the children and family come to cheer them on.”  That seems pretty obvious, however this expectation changed the position of the mother in the home, and in these communities. In this way, Mamanet was a catalyst that challenged and changed societal assumptions. The positive community impacts have been so noticeably linked to the rise of Mamanet that it has been used as a case study around the world, and Ofra was even requested to present at the United Nations.

I need to digress here for a moment and provide a bit of background to this story. You see, Ofra is a mother of two daughters, and she felt caught in the day-in-day-out motions of being the centre of the family. Take care of children, go to work, come back from work, take children around to classes, come home, make dinner, bath time, bed — and so it goes. One day, a friend invited Ofra to play team sport with her, but the thought of fitting something else into the family schedule did not seem possible! The friend insisted, and eventually, Ofra went. What happened next changed Ofra’s life. She explained that when she was on the court, she felt young, alive, happy and like herself again — something she had not felt since she was a teenager. This was the start, and Ofra was determined that every single mother would have the opportunity to feel the same. That on-the-court moment led Ofra to the mayor’s office where she broached her radical idea: a sporting league for mothers.

It’s amazing to consider that one mother started, not just a sporting league, but a lasting positive social movement. It’s extraordinary, however what I admired most about Ofra was her resolve to run her own race without being distracted by common discourse. For example, a comment I may even make would be along the lines of “empowering mothers/women”. But Ofra dismisses this kind of thinking. Mothers don’t need empowerment like a step to stand on. They need a base assumption that places their needs as imperative, just like that of the children or other members of the family. She said to me, “I don’t buy into empowerment, I just do.” If the assumption is already there, the family must make it work, and you know what? Everyone benefits in the long run. We often make many excuses as mothers about why we can’t — we have no time; the children have needs — however Ofra says:

Start with one, just one reason why you CAN and move forward from there.

Mamanet is a sport, but it’s not really about sport. It’s about a belief in mothers as people, and the importance of investing in the ones who invest in others.

Dinner at Claro @ Tel Aviv

Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel

Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel

Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel

Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel

Claro restaurant, Tel Aviv in Israel

What Women Need - And it's not Empowerment

I was invited to Israel by not-for-profit organisation, Vibe Israel to share my experiences of the country. All opinions and story ideas are my own. Images by Sharni Sadicario. Read more posts from Israel here.

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