Women Win

Including Girl’s and Women’s Voices
02/24/2014 10:02

There is no better way to celebrate April 6, the first International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, than by kicking off a new year of leadership development for young female leaders in the sport for development sector. At the beginning of April, Women Win will have just finished what is always an amazing, inspiring and transformative two weeks in Amsterdam with 10 bright, young and talented rising females from Asian and African sport for development organisations and their international mentors.


During this two week workshop, these young women, all between the ages of 20 and 30, will create their own digital stories, meet and connect with female mentors from the international business and NGO sectors, participate in leadership development activities and develop innovative community change projects that they will implement upon returning to their communities.


Celebrating these women and providing them with opportunities to grow as leaders is central to our work at Women Win, and an essential part of the sport for development movement.  It is not hard to recognise that much of the sport for development (S4D) world is dominated by men- we look around and see that the majority of coaches, facilitators, programme managers and directors of sport for development organisations are men. Adolescent girls are already behind in participation in sport programmes, and an S4D sector that is dominated by male leaders and role models means that these girls have even less access to pathways of leadership within these organisations.


We have seen what happens first hand when adolescent girls are given the chance to participate, and when young women are given the opportunity to lead. Girls themselves become stronger, more confident and assertive and are not afraid to demand their rights. They challenge gender norms by stepping onto a sport field, and through an enabling environment that can be created by S4D organisations, they exercise their rights and become leaders.


Those rights include the opportunity to live in peace and because April 6 is not just about sport for development, but also peace, lets talk about what peace means for girls.


Wars and conflicts rage every day all over the world. Genocide, civil war, drug and gang violence and religious conflict are a reality for many children and young people living on every continent. Sport is an amazing tool that can bridge divides between ethnic and religious groups, can rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers and can help populations deal with and overcome trauma from war and conflict. However, there is a form of violence that is less visible, less public and doesn’t make headlines so often. According to the United Nations (U.N.)*, one in three women is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. It is estimated that over 6 billion people live in the world today. Over half of those people are females – 3.3. billion to be exact. The math is simple: One billion women have or will experience gender-based violence (GBV).


GBV is the most socially tolerated human rights violation of our time, deeply rooted in tradition, inequity and ignorance. The cost of the global pandemic of gender-based violence is beyond measure. Its destructive impact can be seen in global and regional economics, education, public health, and most poignantly, in the physical and psychological toll it takes on the one billion individual girls and women whose lives are never the same after being violated. These girls and women are not living in peace.

When girls participate in sport, they challenge the core of GBV – inequity, patriarchy, and rigid gender roles. Beyond the challenge to social norms, the application of sport in combating gender-based violence is practical. Physically, when girls play, they become stronger and healthier. They develop a greater ownership and understanding of their bodies. Psychologically, sport can enhance a girl's self-esteem and self-efficacy**.  The success a girl experiences on the sport field translates into her belief in herself off the sport field. The physical and emotional strength sport offers can be positive forces in reducing a girl’s risk of experiencing GBV.  


A team environment can offer social support and a forum for girls to share their concerns and experiences, including those related to gender-based violence. It can provide girls with protected access to public space, such as playing fields and streets that would otherwise be considered dangerous. When girls walk the streets or play as a group, they are less likely to be kidnapped, raped or harassed, than if they are alone.  

Around the world, women's rights organisations, and sport organisations are designing sport programmes with the intention of addressing GBV. With well-trained coaches and active community partnerships, these programmes offer girls a place to learn about their rights.  On the occasion when a girl is violated, her coach or teammates can function as a support system offering her options for reporting the violation and accessing the legal, emotional and medical services she will need.

Throughout the world, we have seen girls transform their own lives, the lives of their peers, including boys, and ultimately transform their communities. When these adolescent girls grow up and become role models, coaches and mentors for younger girls in their sport programmes, the cycle continues.  It is for this reason that creating leadership opportunities for girls and young women is essential.


By including girls’ and women’s voices in all areas of the sport for development sector, we are encouraging a holistic approach to community development and peacemaking.


So, on April 6, we will be celebrating the achievements of our amazing programme partners, grassroots S4D organisations that are pushing girls forward, giving them the opportunities to take on bigger roles and responsibilities and developing the next generation of leaders in sport for development. But we are not just celebrating achievements, we will also be celebrating potential: the potential of 10 young women chosen as Women Win’s next class of Young Leader Fellows for the Girls in Sport Mentorship Programme. Despite the fact that we still have a long way to go before girls have full access to sport programmes and opportunities to lead, we want to celebrate the work that has been done and the work yet to be done toward helping girls empower themselves to rise up courageously and transform their lives through sport.



Maria Bobenrieth | m.bobenriethwomenwin.org

www.m.bobenriethwomenwin.org (womenwin.org)


* UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00

** The main goal of women's self-defense training is to strengthen women's capacity to defend themselves against potential attacks. Yet, the effects of women's self-defense training extend considerably beyond this objective, including physical, psychological, and behavioural impacts” in Brecklin, L. R. (2008). Evaluation outcomes of self-defense training for women: A review. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 13, 16 & Pedersen, S. & Seidman E. (2004). Team sports achievement and self-esteem development among urban adolescent girls. Psychology of Women Quarterly,28, 412–422 - See more at: http://gbvguide.org/sport-+-gbv/considering-sport-as-a-tool#sthash.7CnQg...