Haseena (2015), in his study on women empowerment in sports notes of the low participation of women in sports globally, including India. He urges the utilization of already existent tools to empower women teams. Hassena, however, singles out Kerala state, which has good female participation across various sectors such as social, political, and sports. His focus on women in sports makes his state of the great global attention that the state has achieved due to the role of its women in sports over the last three decades. He notes of the vast pool of sportswomen that the state has produced over the years in games and physical activities. He states that women athletes have inspired multiple girls in the state. Haseena notes of the critical role that women participation in sports can help to eliminate gender discrimination in India and break patriarchal norms that have for long-isolated women’s position to the secondary status both at the workplace and at the household level. This discrimination has negatively affected women in different sectors, such as in education, financially, health, and political involvement. Further, Haseena notes of the various ways that sports benefit girls and women. These include enhancing health and wellbeing, increasing self-esteem and empowerment, encouraging social inclusion and integrating, challenging gender norms, and offering women opportunities for leadership.
Puri’s (2016) address in one of the UN’s events highlights some of the crucial areas that sports help in women empowerment. She states that sports are essential in achieving gender equity. Sports help bring down gender barriers and discrimination. She says that sports give women a voice and enable them to break the social construct that they are weak and incapacitated. Sports activities such as ball kicking show physical strength, leadership qualities, and prudent thinking. These skills are essential towards achieving gender equality, she states. Engaging in sports also helps girls to demystify societal myths, boost their self-esteem, and help them acquire leadership traits. She, however, notes of some of the downsides associated with sports events. She cites violence against women, e.g., increase in domestic abuse in the UK during world cups and home team game loss and the increase in women and child trafficking for sexual exploitation during Olympics and World Cups as some of the incidences depicting the dark sides associated with sporting activities. She advocates for the use of sports events to sensitize against gender-based violence and advocacy for the leveling of playing fields for all girls and women.
Mlambo-Ngcuka (2019) echoes Puri’s sentiments on sports programs in women’s empowerment and attainment of gender equality. She states that sports programs help to impact girls and women the values of teamwork, resilience, and self-reliance, which are all essential tools towards the achievement of gender equality. Sports programs help create avenues where girls and women can network and develop connections useful for their social, economic, and career lives(Eschenbacher, 2011). Sports programs also create safe havens where girls and women can find refuge against violence afflicted on them back home and in communities.
Sporting activities give girls a better understanding of their bodies and help them become confident. Girls in sports are more likely to speak up against traditional societal female stereotypes. Sports greatly help adolescent girls to comprehend the changes associated with it and help them surmount challenges such as peer influence and pressure. The integration of sports activities with life skills helps empower girls in various sectors (UNICEF, 2019). One Win Leads to Another Program that integrates sports activities into life skills training for girls from vulnerable and violent communities have recorded great success. Girls become empowered on how to become a leader, reporting abuse, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections prevention, and how to be more ambitious in life (Mlambo-Ngcuka,2019).
Sports programs help produce women athletes who become role models to girls and women. Their success on the fields and Olympic podiums help inspire girls and instill in them the need to believe in their capabilities and dreams. Their excellence is an embodiment that girls can tear down social norms, stereotypes, and attitudes on gender roles. Female champions not only inspire girls that they can excel in the field, but they also gain celebrity status that they can use to advocate for gender equality and respect for women’s rights (Mlambo-Ngcuka,2019).
Popal (2013) states that sports help girls to challenge societal norms. They help girls become courageous and self-efficient. Sports programs accord girls with opportunities to lead and enable them to believe in their capabilities (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2012). Qualities gained in sporting activities are translated into everyday life as girls can engage in activities they previously deemed challenging. They are also more likely to take the initiative into different life aspects. Some of the crucial elements used in sports are useful in life skills, such as leadership. The need to prepare, practice, and play are vital in life. Girls in sports get to learn of the need to prepare in life in areas such as developing their skills and talents, setting challenging goals, and endeavoring to live by one’s values. The practice is essential in life as it helps girls learn of the essence of interacting with others, teaming up, and growing her leadership skills. Playing in everyday life allows girls to learn of the need to take action in various aspects, such as in their own lives and at the community or international level.
Hess (2016) notes that sports help girls realize their strengths and attain their potential. Through a girls’ sporting event organized by Ejaz, an alumnus of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan, in a girls’ high school in Pakistan, Hess notes that the program helped the girls gain interest in sports and continued playing even in college. Some of the girls pointed out that the event helped them become more confident in decision making, increased their self-confidence, and helped them become leaders. Sports help increase community engagement for girls and present to them a method to manage stresses. It helps them gain physical, emotional, and social strength.
Sports improve physical fitness, helps in weight management, and decrease stress and anxiety for girls (Hancock et al.,2013). They also create avenues for peer-to-peer interaction enabling social interactions that are more than their family networks and thus help the girls lead better social lives (Dagkas and Armour, 2012; Zipp, 2016). The girls’ body image and confidence are also improved. Sports help to decrease depression rates in girls. Overall, girls can lead more healthy lives. This enables them to have better concentration in other sectors of their lives, such as in education, thus enhancing women empowerment.
Hancock et al. (2013) study on the assessment of sports for development programs for girls and women found out that sports programs provide a social inclusion tool for girls. These programs create a safe zone where women can freely socialize, and through movements and physical activities, express themselves (Musangeya and Muchechetere, 2012). The programs were especially important in communities that had restrictive and stringent cultural and religious norms such as in Asian, African, and Eastern European counties. The social inclusion helped address issues of ethnicity, racism, gender inequalities, thus enhancing women empowerment.
Sports programs help attract participants for various educative programs useful in women empowerment (Hancock et al., 2013). The programs include HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, reproductive health, mental health, skill empowerment, and self-efficiency (Nauright, 2015). The sports programs were attractive to women already knowledgeable and with access to sporting activities. As women engaged in sporting activities, they would also be trained on the various educative programs that helped to empower them. Sports programs attractive to women include soccer, dance, fitness, and basketball. Soccer is attractive because of its global popularity, space availability, and cost-effectiveness. Fitness includes activities such as cultural games, calisthenics, and running. Dance and fitness are also cost-effective, require less space and equipment. Dances were also attractive because of the cultural significance that they bear in most communities.
Zipp (2016), in a study conducted on sport for development for ‘at-risk’ adolescent girls in St. Lucia, Eastern Caribbean, found out that the sports helped in capability development. The girls engaged in football, dances, swimming, and netball, running, skipping rope, and gymnastics. Female only sports helped achieve self-efficiency and encouraged peer and mentor relationships. Self-efficacy helps build healthy personal development (Coalter and Taylor,2010). Self-efficient individuals believe in their ability to achieve their goals, and they can influence the events in their lives. Sports help attain self-efficacy due to the much focus given to practice, skill mastery, and development and learning from losses. Self-efficacy individuals are more motivated to take challenges and get through difficulties. Co-educational football helped empower the girls and defy gender stereotypes. Their belief that girls were equally good in sports as boys depict their defiance of gender norms and being empowered. The girls at St. Lucia were considered at risk due to their vulnerability as the island has high unemployment and poverty levels. Children were exposed to different detrimental behaviors such as criminal activities, domestic abuse, child neglect, and parent absenteeism.
Empowerment involves the ability and freedom of a person to make choices. Opportunities for girls to engage in sports present the ability to make a choice and depicts a social change (Zipp, 2016). Since sports have been considered to be male-dominated, the participation of women in sports breaks that gender barrier. Women’s engagement in sports also helps to challenge other gender stereotypes and existent social norms. It helps in the achievement of gender equality (British Council, 2017).
Anderson (2012) conducted a study on how education and sports were empowering girls in Hatcliffe Extension, Zimbabwe. Anderson describes Hatcliffe Extension as being an impoverished place and where girls go through difficult situations, discrimination, no formal schooling, early marriages, lack of access to quality healthcare, and decent housing. These situations lead to desperation and hopelessness for the girls. Anderson notes of the various ways that sports programs offered by different practitioners in Zimbabwe were impacting the girls’ lives. Firstly, he states that sports programs give an avenue for healing, strengthening, and feeling empowered for girls who have gone through loss and trauma. Participation in various sports such as soccer gives the girls hope, a space to build self-worth and release stress, and the ability to heal. The sense of accomplishment in sports helps them to become stronger, self-confident, empowered, and develop high self-esteem. Secondly, participation in sports helped the girls acquire skills that were transferrable to everyday life. The skills included teamwork, discipline, respect, coordination, time management, self-control, etc. The skills were transferrable to individual lives, family, and to the community, for example, in being respectful and helpful in their families. Thirdly, the sports programs helped entrench social inclusion by overcoming gender stereotypes, norms, cultural violence, and marginalization. Fourthly, sports programs helped the girls become role models in their communities. Girls participating in sports were less likely to engage in drug abuse, get into abusive relationships, or get pregnant. They also displayed good attitudes and behavior, such as self-confidence, discipline, and respect. The girls were also likely to take up leadership roles, were ambitious, and envisioned themselves becoming impactful in their communities and break the existent poverty cycle.
Kidd and Donnelly’s (2007) review cite examples of different sports programs that are impacting women empowerment. They cite two sports programs in Kenya that have been impactful in women empowerment. One group, Mathare Youth Sports Association in the slums of Nairobi, runs a football program for girls and boys. Their girl sensitive program in areas such as training hours and gender roles has helped increased gender equality, and access to peer networks by offering the girls avenues for cooperation, negotiation, and communication. The other program, Moving the Goal Posts Kilifi, also offers football programs but exclusively for girls. The program addresses issues of gender disparity that empower girls and women on leadership, education, and reproductive health (Zipp,2016). The program also addresses issues of gender barriers. It has helped participants manage stress, shyness, and fatigue, enabling members to become confident and experience a sense of togetherness and wellbeing (Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, n.d.).
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