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Here's How Sport Facilitates Women’s Empowerment

CREA is a feminist human rights organisation based in New Delhi, which works to advance the rights of women and girls, and sexual and reproductive freedoms of all people. CREA has been implementing a programme with adolescent girls called 'It's My Body: Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of adolescent girls' since 2013.

The programme, which is uniquely designed at crossroads of gender and SRHR and sports, is co-implemented by CREA and its partners in Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It aims to enhance girls’ access to public spaces and provide SRHR information to girls aged 12-16 years, using sports as an entry point. In the last 6 years CREA has gained very rich experiences from the field which has added tremendously to the sector's knowledge of working with adolescent girls. It has helped identify what has worked well and what needs further work for making a programme like IMB more relevant and meaningful to girls.

StratComm has been engaged with CREA to develop a curriculum that is to be transacted with adolescent girls. While working on conceptualising and designing the IMB curriculum, we got to understand how mandatory football sessions complement the objective that the programme seeks to address.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development notes the growing contribution of sport towards development objectives. It states that sport promotes tolerance and respect while playing a significant role in empowering women and transforming their lives. The impact that CREA has achieved through the IMB programme demonstrates this very fact through and through with every subsequent iteration of its implementation.

So how exactly does sport help in a programme that targets adolescent girls' sexual and reproductive health and rights?

Sport is an ice-breaker

Sport works as an excellent ice breaker for sessions where creating a buy-in from the stakeholders is otherwise difficult. Stakeholders, here, refers to the adolescent girls that the IMB programme engages with. This becomes more relevant in a curriculum which aims to alter a significant mode of thought which is engraved within a social or cultural context.

In essence, sport helps in bringing the participants together in the first place. This solves the first-order problem of gathering participants even before a buy-in is created. The problem of buy-in arises from the fact that stakeholders cannot imagine the impact that a certain change within their thought can bring about.

Moreover, placing the stakeholders in an interplay of a competitive and collaborative tussle makes for a fertile ground on which practices and thought patterns can be built. This also results in participants building relations and sharing their experiences with each other, which effectively works towards dis-entangling of a myriad of norms in which their thoughts and actions are rooted.

The IMB programme aims to empower women in such a way that they can exert control over their bodies, make their own decisions and demand their rights. When designing learning sessions for such a curriculum for gender and SRH, breaking the ice becomes a significant aspect of it. Not only because the stakeholders might have psychological barriers which prevent them from speaking their thoughts but also because of the trauma surrounding discussion on these subjects. However, starting these sessions with sports, more or less, undoes the need for an ice-breaker.

Sport can be subversive

However, the first step towards change is recognising what stops one from being able to do all of the above. Sport makes for an excellent entry-way for a programme, which aims to subvert the oppressive social structure which hinders women from overcoming it. While this oppression is rooted in a matrix of socio-economic, political and mythical aspects of a culture, its lived experience might be the only entryway for a non-academic audience, which is also the key stakeholder category in this context.

In practice, this begins with stigma around growing up: dressing up in a certain manner, parental and familial restrictions, followed by societal norms, and much more – all of this, in the backdrop of bodily and hormonal changes, which, in itself, predicates a jarring experience.

In such a country, where women playing outdoor sports is mostly frowned upon, starting empowerment sessions with sport dispels that first barrier of realising the issue, by acting on it in complete directness. When followed by sessions on gender, law, life skills, rights and leadership, the participants are able to reveal the underlying patriarchal structure that has overshadowed them – except that now they are looking at it from the top.

Yes to boundaries

This is not all. There are other parallels between sports and realising one's sexual and reproductive health and rights. These include, but are not limited to the idea of consent, the idea of setting boundaries, competing without rivalry, and finally, communicating and co-operating within a group setting.

For example, playing football teaches how to move infinitely within a closed space without violating the rules, which are excellent parallels to the idea of personal space and setting boundaries around a practice or a behaviour. The programme also touches upon effective communication, building leadership skills and information on rights and legal provisions for women.

Sport and women’s empowerment: The way forward

On the eve of International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, it is imperative to remark and highlight the work that CREA has done. Through the IMB programme, CREA has influenced the lives of over six thousand girls directly and thousands of others indirectly. The programme has also worked to improve the situations in which these girls live and navigate around on a daily basis – for example, their families and their communities. As a result, more women are reclaiming their space and visibility in public spaces and have experienced greater social mobility.

At StratComm, we value our clients' passions and make them our own. While designing this curriculum, we gave significant thought to achieving the outcomes that the programme seeks to achieve. Through dynamic activities, films, podcasts, comics designed by participants from previous iterations and well-researched techniques in the space of gender and SRH, we designed a learning trajectory for the curriculum. The curriculum has been designed for implementation through three phases across a year, while allowing for an additional 6 months of engagement through a leadership module.


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