Sports programmes are increasingly recognised as an effective tool for empowering youth in developing countries, but are often designed for, and dominated by, boys and men.
As women’s rights organisations make powerful strides in the development arena, their efforts must support and address the unique challenges faced by girls and young women. Through sport, people learn to embody leadership and tackle challenges. This is why sports programmes are effective tools to combat gender inequity, and why it is critical that these programmes are designed specifically to serve girls and young women.
Out with the old,
in with the new!
Sports allow girls to challenge socio-cultural norms and gender stereotypes on the pitch, at the community level, and in larger society. When girls play, they transcend the gender limits set on females, building the ability to do the same in other areas of life, such as in education and at work. The impact of sports continues off the pitch and throughout life – athletes take initiative, raise their voices and have the courage to take risks.
Through sport and play, adolescent girls and young women:
- Become physically stronger and healthier and develop a greater ownership and understanding of their bodies. If a girl considers her body her own, she protects it, cherishes it, and demands that it be respected.
- Develop critical life skills transferable to other spheres of life such as teamwork, goal setting, resilience and communication, all through the constant practise that sport requires.
- Gain access to a safe space to grow and explore, especially through physical, social and emotional development.
- Connect with peers for social support – a vital reference point and resource for dealing with the challenges associated with adolescence.
- Learn from a positive female role model in the form of a female coach or team leader. This provides girls with a caring, supportive mentor to help navigate adolescence and inspire a vision of what is possible.
- Explore human differences and get connected to others from a different class, race, caste, or religion, which in turn can promote mutual respect and deeper understanding.
- Capture the attention of the community. When girls play in public, they have an instant awareness-raising opportunity to advocate for their rights within the community. Victories, kits, and leadership positions can shift a girl’s status within her community – from being perceived as a liability to a source of pride.
- Have fun. It is so simple, but the sheer distraction from the pressures of growing up is an essential experience that we are all entitled to.