Sisters Tabitha and Temwa Chawinga are carving a niche for themselves in women’s football while placing Malawi on the map. The pair began their football career back home in Malawi, went on to play in Europe and now they play for two big rival teams in China.
The sisters attribute their passion for football to their father. They are from a family of seven and have three other sisters.
The pair played football as children with local boys and the older of the two, Tabitha, 24, said she has never thought being a woman should stop her from pursuing her dreams.
“Growing up, I never saw myself as different from boys – whatever they did, I believed I could, and went for it,” she explained.
Tabitha was the first to go professional with her football career and has since pulled her little sister, Temwa, 22, along although the younger of the two admits her big sister’s shoes are quite big to fill.
A talent agent noticed a 13-year-old Tabitha playing in her village with the boys and poached her to DD Sunshine, a women’s football team in the capital, Lilongwe. Tabitha recommended Temwa to the club and she joined the team in 2013. According to Tabitha, her recommendations were not based on her filial relations but purely on her sister’s talent.
“I did this not because she is my sister, but because I know her potential” Tabitha told FIFA.com. “I wanted Temwa to try her luck with a big club where she could improve, both mentally and technically.”
Tabitha’s move to the big leagues however came when she went on as a plus one during the transfer of a young American talent to Sweden.
DD Sunshine owner David Dube was very instrumental in Tabitha’s transfer ensuring that Tabitha had the opportunity to showcase her skills in Europe.
He paid for her visa and flight to Sweden for trials and she was later signed on after her first training, a move which made her Malawi’s first-ever female footballer to play in Europe in 2014.
“I joined the team for training on the same day I arrived and they were immediately impressed with my strength, dribbling, shooting from far and scoring skills,” Tabitha told BBC sports Africa.
In 2014, she was signed to third-tier Swedish team, Krokom/Dvarsatts IF, and scored 39 goals in 14 games to emerge as the league’s top scorer for that season.
After a year, she moved to Kvarnsvedens IK, a second-division side where she played impressively during the season as well scoring 43 goals, moving her team to the top of the league.
Word of the Malawian player spread across Europe and many teams were vying for her but she made a big move to join Jiangsu Suning to play in the Chinese Women’s Super League in January 2018.
Her transfer to the Asian team meant there was a slot that needed to be filled with someone as good as her. Once again, Tabitha recommended her sister for the Swedish side, Kvarnsveden.
“The club owner resisted because he did not believe Malawi could produce another good player like me, but I fought hard for my sister, so they eventually agreed to invite her for trials and they signed her,” Tabitha said.
When Temwa settled, she began charting her own course in Sweden and earned the top goalscorer title with 35 goals in the last season with a combined score of 55 goals in just 57 appearances across two seasons.
“My sister has been instrumental in my career progression.” Temwa told BBC Sport Africa.
“She of course made connections for me to leave Malawi to play abroad, but most importantly has always advised me to fight hard, to know what I want and to pursue it without listening to distracting people.”
Meanwhile, Tabitha is now a star player in China winning the golden boot and Player of the Year in 2019. She helped her team, Jiangsu, win the 2019 Chinese league title with 12 goals in 14 games, a feat the Chinese team had not attained in the last decade.
When Tabitha heard agents in China were looking for another all-rounded player like her, she knew it was time for her little sister to move to Asia so she recommended her to the agents. Temwa’s track record from Sweden was all it took for Wuhan FC to sign her.
The pair’s stellar performances on the international front has not gone unnoticed in Malawi. Tabitha is captain of the national women’s football team.
“Back home the family are very happy about us. My parents never thought their children would one day play football outside of the country, but now it’s happening,” Temwa said.
The Chawinga sisters and their team gave their all during the 2020 CAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament but their efforts proved futile when they were kicked out of the race by their Kenyan counterparts in a return leg of the second round.
Nevertheless, no Malawian women’s football team had progressed to this stage in the qualifiers in the Olympics or the World Cup.
Malawi is more famous for its netballers than its women footballers but the Chawinga sisters are aiming to put the country on the map through women’s football.
“Malawi have never qualified for the Women’s World Cup but that competition means a lot for us. It represents our hopes and, if all of us keep working hard, we can reach the level needed and realize our dreams.”
The sisters are not only helping Malawian women’s football with their talent but with their money as well. They also mentor young girls and are a big inspiration to the little ones.
“Tabitha does everything for us. From paying our school fees, accommodation and food as well as upkeep. She is my role model because she has proven that with hard work, we can also achieve our goals. She always tells us that it is about self-belief and dedication,” Nasir Amidu, a beneficiary of Tabitha’s benevolence, said.