Women Fight Discrimination on the Playing Fields

May 24, 2009 08:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
Girls can benefit from sports in many ways, but in developing countries where it can help them the most, overcoming discrimination isn’t easy.

Women’s Teams Struggle in Uganda

Next month in Uganda, the boys’ football teams, or soccer, as the sport’s known stateside, will compete in the regional Katine ’09 competition in the district of Soroti. Girls’ teams, however,  won’t have the same opportunity.

Unlike the boys’ teams, which receive funding from Coca-Cola, girls’ teams don’t have sponsors, reports the Guardian. Even after passing one level of the competition, girls’ teams are often unable to pay the necessary expenses to compete at the next.

Finances aren’t the only problem; cultural bias is another obstacle. Nelson Odeke, chairman of the Soroti District Football Association told the Guardian, “ People also do not want to see women dressed in shorts, in the name of football."

Still, Daniel Emaru, 29, who established the Aleleya Ladies football club last year, said he had successfully coaxed some reluctant parents into allowing their daughters to play by explaining the potential for scholarships.

Florence Nkalubo, the association's chairwoman, told the Guardian, "[W]e are really pushing the game in schools. We see it as essential in helping Uganda reach Millennium Development Goal three which is all about equal opportunities for all.”

In Egypt, community sports programs for girls, such as “Ishraq,” which means “safe places to learn and grow" have made significant progress. After a network of aid organizations introduced 10 sports in four rural towns, table tennis and football proved to be the clear favorites. These two sports were then brought to more than 60 towns. 

As The International Platform on Sport and Development explains, “Ishhraq focuses on the development of new leadership skills and freedom of expression and movement, essential ingredients for empowerment.”

Background: Benefits of sports for girls

Elizabeth Stanton is a journalist and documentarian profiled on Nike’s Game Changer’s Web. Stanton believes it’s crucial for developing nations to rise above the cultural stigma surrounding women and sports.

She explains, “I believe that the benefits derived from sports can … accelerate community building and involvement and drive social change.”

Among the other benefits girls reap from sports, Stanton lists, “self confidence, commitment to school and work, [and] respect for one’s body.”

Gil Reavill and Jean Zimmerman, authors of “Raising Our Athletic Daughters,” told the site Family Education that girls who play sports are less prone to “self-destructive behaviors.  The girls involved in sports have fewer sexual partners, on average; have sexual contact later, and don’t get as pregnant as often, they said.

Another advantage of playing sports is that girls learn to find peaceable solutions to problems.

Having shadowed two girls’ soccer teams over a season, Nick Holt and colleagues from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation observed that sports provides training in conflict resolution, according to the site “In sport you've got to work with the people you might not get along with,” Holt explained. “It's not about being afraid of conflict and just keeping everyone happy all the time.” The lessons, he said, are transferable; sports will prepare girls for problems that crop up on the job years later.

Video: "If you let me play"

In 1995, Nike launched a memorable but also controversial sneaker ad, still available on YouTube, called “If You Let Me Play.” In the ad, young girls on swingsets, bicycles and merry-go-rounds cite reasons why they should be allowed to play sports: "I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer…I will suffer less depression … [and] I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.”

Related Topic: Billie Jean King

In 1973, Billie Jean King’s highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” match helped to legitimize women’s athletics in the eyes of the world.

King dominated the match, winning 6–4, 6–3, 6–3. It was the “drop shot and volley heard around the world,” declared The Sunday Times of London, as quoted by ESPN.

Reference: Spend your Gap Year coaching


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