Colombian youngsters kick gender inequality into touch
For decades, Colombia has suffered countless social, economic, environmental and political crises, including devastating armed conflict, resulting in millions of people living in challenging conditions.
Impoverished children in Colombia face gender-limiting roles that have been fixed for generations, restricting the opportunities of young girls who in other parts of the world may want to have careers rather than follow traditions of home-making and parenthood.
The Laureus-supported Colombianitos ‘Jugamos en la Misma Cancha’ (We Play on the Same Court) project uses rugby as a tool to educate young girls and boys about gender equity and has been implemented in three schools from vulnerable communities since 2019; in Bogota city and the rural communities of Puerto Tejada and Barbosa.
Girls and women in Colombia face sexual abuse and rape, violence and even murder. Statistics say that at least eight women are victims of domestic violence every hour and 55 girls are raped every day. In some regions where the project operates, almost 60% of people are living in poverty with nearly 30% living in extreme poverty. Government data also suggests a prevalence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and sexual acts and mutilation with family members also involved in sexual violence.
The Colombianitos project teaches young people awareness and the importance of gender equality as the foundation of personal and social development and also highlights how gender stereotypes arise socially, influencing beliefs and behaviour that creates discrimination and inequality.
Project co-ordinator Diana Rodriguez explained: “The lockdowns and the pandemic have been a challenge and those children involved in the communities where we work are vulnerable and don’t have access to the internet.
“There are social problems and violence, it’s very difficult but thanks to the help of Laureus we can use our unique curriculum and the best of sport to be very specific with our learning.
“For boys it’s very normal to just stay at home and not do anything, to use violent language and take a specific machismo role, especially in little towns.
“We want children to learn another way of life. We want a boy to think about his father and his siblings and consider if he’s not being very fair with his mother and sisters. It’s about thinking why is that and that maybe it’s a social problem.
“Gender equality has to be the base for social justice and families are starting to know that. This is very important because gender stereotypes and sexist culture are the things that maintain gender violence in our country.
“We take baby steps because for the children these are huge changes in the families. Our rugby training improves girls’ self-esteem and lets boys think differently about girls’ capacity in sports because they can then see that girls can do it.”
With schools having to close during the Covid-19 pandemic, Colombianitos designed a virtual gender equality curriculum with 20 videos and challenges based on rugby and involving all the family, so that learning is strengthened and has a greater impact.
The project program has helped hundreds of families to re-evaluate their gender dynamics and family roles. That has seen the distribution of household chores reviewed so that they are no longer just a female responsibility. This led to an improvement in family relationships and a reduction in aggressive sexist language, with young boys correcting each other when one of them did so.
The project rugby sessions allowed the participants to engage in physical activity, which they had otherwise missed due to the Covid-19 quarantine. Rugby is not a well-known sport in Colombia but it helped the girls understand that they can do whatever they want and that can exploit their potential. For the boys, it resulted in them becoming more respectful and cooperative with their families.
Ms Rodriguez added: “Laureus gave us 500 rugby balls which was amazing because we had the new curriculum and the children had the most important thing they need to practise.
“We adapt rugby, it has to be very safe, we don’t tackle, it has to be very specific in order to guarantee the children’s safety. We’ve had an amazing team and are indebted to Laureus’ support.
“The Nomination for the Laureus Sport for Good Award represents such a pride and joy that is difficult to express in words. It has been the result of hard work, compromise and passion; of tireless sharing with so many children and adolescents, their families and the members of the educational community, the directors and teachers.
“This Nomination is a dream that we have carried in our hearts, a great honour that motivates us to continue being excellent and to continue believing in the power of sports and education to transform society, so that gender equality ceases to be a dream and becomes a reality in a country so fractured by violence and inequality.
“It is an engine to continue believing in the potential of girls, but also of boys, and their important role in the elimination of violence and gender gaps. The Nomination is a joy shared by the entire team during these years of believing in sport for gender equity and working with our beneficiaries who are the essence of our day to day.”
The Laureus-supported Colombianitos project empowers girls and young women who are traditionally expected to follow gender norms
Eleven-year-old Juan José (Cardona Daza), who was born in the city of Medellín, has been exposed to patriarchal violence all his life.
He lives with his parents, his 28-year-old brother and 20-year-old sister while his farmer father would often come home with a few extra drinks and prone to violent arguments, uttering sexist comments about gender roles at home.
During the Laureus-supported workshops, Juan would repeat what he heard his father saying, that domestic chores were “for girls" and would accuse him of acting like a girl as a derogatory term.
He soon understood that the men in his family were acting badly and unfairly and explained what he has learnt.
Juan said: “They were training us to continue acting the way our parents were raised. I see that there is a long way to go but now I think that when I grow up and have a daughter, I want her to grow up without any sexist barriers, so that she can be what she wants.
“I see my mum and my sister a little freer and that makes me feel powerful. I admire my mum a lot because she always wants to learn new things. When she reads what I write about, I observe her crying a little bit and I think she deserves more.”
As a family, Juan established fairer daily practices with the women of the family and his mother has now been empowered to establish a fairer distribution of household tasks.
Laureus Academy Member Nawal El Moutawakel knows all about the challenges of gender stereotypes after becoming the first Moroccan, African and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, in the 400 metres hurdles in Los Angeles in 1984.
She said: “Women have participated in the Olympic Games since 1900, often in defiance of gender norms. All of them became powerful role models for the next generation.
“With all the organisations I work with including Laureus, I try my best with my fellow female Academy Members such as Nadia Comaneci, Katarina Witt, Martina Navratilova and Tanni Grey-Thompson to show that sport is a human right.
“We feel there are still far too many women in this world who are denied access to sport. Through community-based programmes, we try to empower women and girls by practising sport at the grassroots level. This is fantastic and a growing sign of the positive change of gender empowerment in society today."
Another beneficiary of the project is 15-year-old Yurani (Hurtado) who lives with her 11-year-old sister and her mother, who works as a domestic worker in the city of Cali.
Yurani's father, a soldier, died when she was nine years old, so she has watched her mother working hard to support the family and educate her about equality and achieving in the face of adversity.
She works very hard at school and is well behaved, but it is a different story where she lives, in the Betania neighbourhood where gang activity, domestic violence, early pregnancy and drug abuse are rife.
Violence and abuse against women has become normalised and has created a culture where opportunity and ambition for young women is limited and men are considered to be superior.
While at school there has never been the opportunity to speak and learn about gender equality, the Colombianitos project has given Yurani the opportunity to hear her peers talk about gender equality and learn about the freedom for women to choose professional careers without limitation.
Yurani said: “For the first time I felt supported, that I was not crazy dreaming of a world with the same opportunities for women and men. Now I feel confident that I can dream of being a great professional.
“I have found opportunities to share this topic with my whole family. It was only when we talked about these important issues that we realised how many times women's rights are being violated.”
At the 2020 Youth Week Congress in Puerto Tejada, Yurani was an active participant in the discussion on ‘Youth free of stereotypes’ and stood out as a leader.
Both Juan and Yurani now understand that ambitions and life should not adhere to antiquated gender stereotypes and they now share their learnings to encourage young people to be more aware of the needs of others, particularly women and girls.
Boys are girls have learnt about gender equality through Colombianitos rugby sessions
The Colombianitos Foundation has now impacted the lives of nearly 150,000 adolescents from the most vulnerable Colombian communities who are affected by violence, armed conflict, discrimination, forced displacement and inequality due to race, gender and social conditions.
Nearly 2000 teachers have been trained by the Foundation and their gender equality project ‘We Play on the Same Court’ has educated almost 1600 girls and boys who have been exposed to sexist culture.