Sport’s winning route to improving the lives of girls
Stars Foundation are an enterprising organisation advocating and working to support the capacity building of organisations around the world. A supporter of Sport for Good, they champion the fight against gender inequality through a unique awards called the With and For Girls Awards which enters its second year of award giving.
With the football European Championships and the Olympics on the horizon, our newspapers and facebook pages will soon be awash with sports mania; stories of teamwork, dedication and moments of glory. But sport can do more than just bring entertainment to the masses. Across the globe many locally-led organisations use sports as a tool to improve the lives of girls.
The end of 2015 brought us the first group of winners of the With and For Girls Award, an idea which sprang out of the 2014 Girl Summit in London.
Behind the award is the With and For Girls Collective - a collaboration of eight funders, EMpower, GFC, Mama Cash, Malala Fund, Nike Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Plan UK, and Stars Foundation, - which aims to find and fund locally-led and girl-driven organisations working to improve the lives of adolescent girls.
Several of the 2015 winners have been recognised for creating positive change by using sports to challenge stereotypes related to gender and helping to build the confidence and self-esteem of young women by encouraging them to take part in sport.
One such organisation is Organisation of Women in Sports (AKWOS). In 1994, Rwanda, where AKWOS is based, was torn apart by civil war. The subsequent genocide left many surviving girls raped and abused with a desperate need to rebuild their lives and their confidence.
The founder of AKWOS, Felicite Rwemalika, saw football as a powerful instrument to re-engage and empower girls and women. Playing football on an ethnically mixed team, the women learn to depend on each other for victory and find reconciliation in the camaraderie and teamwork. In doing so it has helped them to overcome ethnic divisions.
For AKWOS, football is a useful entry point to do so much more than just play sport. By engaging girls from rural areas in the game, the organisation is able to educate them about their rights, their health, the effects of early pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, harassment and sexual abuse. Since its inception it has helped over 5,000 girls in Rwanda.
BoxGirls Kenya is another example of a locally-led organisation transforming lives from within its community by challenging stereotypes related to gender and sports, in this case using boxing as its tool. It has championed Kenyan women in sports and one beneficiary, Elizabeth Andiego, was the first female boxer to represent Kenya at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Nairobi, where BoxGirls Kenya is based, is a dangerous city for girls. During the post-election violence in 2008, many girls and women were raped and left traumatised within BoxGirls Kenya’s community. An increase in sexual violence, combined with no platform for girls’ voices to be heard, has left young women from this community vulnerable.
BoxGirls Kenya provides over 1,000 girls with healthcare services, leadership and entrepreneurship skills. The organisation trains female boxing coaches and life skills facilitators who are then equipped to run weekly sports training sessions for girls across the community. In all of its work BoxGirls encourages girls to take care of their bodies, be aware of their rights and know where to report cases of sexual abuse.
What unites these winning organisations is that they are all grassroots and locally-led, thus best-placed to respond to the needs of the communities they serve. There is a growing consensus around the importance of 'localising' global development.
For the With and For Girls Collective, this means finding and investing in girl-centred organisations that deliver impact on the front line in the fight against poverty. With networks already in place and possessing the trust of their communities, these organisations are in a position to introduce what some might see as controversial ideas such as running boxing classes for teenage girls.
The advantages of sport’s ‘soft skills’ such as building confidence, assertiveness and teamwork have been well documented over the years. But within tough development contexts, sport does much more than offer up soft skills; its impact is far deeper and has greater reach.
In challenging norms and educating girls about their rights, organisations such as these are building stronger communities and changing lives.