Earlier this month, Barbara Gonzalez made history by becoming the first woman to hold the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Simba Sports Club in Tanzania.
It is uncommon for a woman to have a leading role at any football team in the country. Gonzalez is however changing the narrative, but it comes with its own challenges.
In addition to being criticized for her age and gender, the 30-year-old newly appointed CEO, who is a holder of a master’s degree in political science and economics, has also been criticized because of her last name and skin colour. Many do not know she is Tanzanian until she responds to them in Swahili.
“I have gone to two or three league meetings where they look at me thinking ‘What does this woman know about anything? What does this young person know?’,” Gonzalez said to BBC Sport Africa, adding,
“They look at me and assume I am not Tanzanian so they’ll say it behind my back and I look at them and I quickly hit them with a response in our local language, they step back and it ends there.”
Gonzalez, whose late father was of Colombian descent, was raised in Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam.
The football industry in the country mainly recognizes work done by men – older men, specifically. With the huge task at hand, Gonzalez has to work twice as hard to prove her worth and leave a mark.
Part of her resolution is to create an academy so that Simba nurtures young talent and reduces the cost of hiring or buying new players from other teams. This will be in addition to the already-existing Under-20 and Under-17 teams.
She is also aiming to improve the club’s performance in the Africa Champions League, which they will take part in after winning the Tanzania Premier League title. She is willing to invest in players, technical team and equipment that will make her goals achievable.
That is not all for the 30-year-old, who aspires to be an inspiration to other women.
“I think this will inspire many women to say: ‘you know, we have our Barbara there, it is possible we can do this, and if she has been able to do it in a very tough environment like Tanzania I am pretty sure it is possible in the rest of the continent’,” she explained to BBC Sport Africa.
Gonzalez is no stranger to doubt and criticism, having faced a team which was full of uncertainty upon her appointment as head of foundation and chief of staff by billionaire Mohamed Dewji. Their perception was only changed when Gonzalez delivered her best.
Gonzalez has pressure to perform her best from both the team and the close to 20 million fanbase of Simba Sports Club who await positive results from her.
Barbara Gonzalez’s reputation precedes her, and she has a decorated CV, having studied in the US and UK and interned at the United Nations. She has also worked as a supplemental instructor, senior office assistant and social coordinator, among other roles.
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.