Sport as a Tool to Promote Gender Equity and Empower Girls and Women... by Monisha U

Sport as a Tool to Promote Gender Equity and Empower Girls and Women

Monisha U
District Programme Manager
Thrissur  District Mission

Sport is an integral part of the culture of almost every nation. Its use to promote gender equity and empowerment of women and girls is often overlooked because sport is not universally perceived as a desirable pursuit for girls and women. Existing social constructs of masculinity and femininity play a key role in determining access, level of participation and benefits from sports. Sports continuum to be dominated by males. Heavy domestic demands, safety concerns, inaccessibility of public space prevent women’s participation in physical activity and sports. As well socio cultural norms and constraints preventing girls and women from being physically active, leaving home unaccompanied are additional barriers preventing girls and women from becoming involved in sport and physical activity. Sports can help increase self esteem by giving women and girls to learn new skills, engage in positive relationship  and receive  public recognition. By providing women and girls with a voice in program design and decision making and opportunity for leadership.

Kudumbashree focuses its programs in three domains: Economic empowerment, Social empowerment and women empowerment. Women empowerment is a holistic term by itself. Kudumbashree provides ample opportunities to women to earn income, become self reliant and to create their own space in the society. The goal of Gender self learning programme of Kudumbashree is to analyze the status of women in the society and capacitate them to prevent the issues. Locally contextualized modules such as women and work women and health and women and mobility were developed for discussions in NHG meeting. And these discussions could create a great impact in their own lives. Report on these discussion shows that there are many barriers for mobility of women such as socio-cultural norms, traditions and customs.

Gender team of district Kudumbashree Mission, Thrissur district in Kerala has undertaken sports and physical activities among women and adolescent girls to promote gender equity and empower girls and women. The ultimate aim of this intervention is to remove “all the obstacles to women’s mobility in all spheres of public and private life”.

Enhancing health and well being
The health benefits of physical activity are well established for girls and  women. Regular activity improves quality improves quality of life, lower risk of diseases and offers numerous psychological and social benefits.
Fostering self-esteem and empowerment
Self esteem and empowerment are critical issues for girls and women because gender stereotyping and gender norms often lead to feeling of inadequacy and lack of confidence. Self esteem and empowerment are seen as a significant benefit of sport-participation. Football team members of Varavoor CDS reported sport enhanced their level of confidence and self esteem.
“When I got two goal against the opposite team at that moment I felt proud and confidence than ever before” Bindhu,Varavvor CDS.
“I played football by wearing Jersey in front of huge number of audience. That was an unforgettable moment in my life.”-Jalaja, Varavoor CDS.

Access to public space
Differential access to public spaces by male and female began in childhood and is exacerbated in adolescence when girl’s physical mobility is curtailed by cultural norms and conditions that determine where it is safe or acceptable for them to go. Parents try to restrict girl’s mobility more than boys. This significantly narrows their public life and social structure. Safety issues are an important factor limiting the participation of girls and women in sports.
After starting this program both the attitude of themselves and the attitude of their family changed dramatically. Now they spare lot of time in the public ground without the fear of safety.
In the words of one participant: “I never got a chance to watch football or any other games in the public ground. I always seen that boys and men are playing in the ground. Now the situation has changed, we are playing football in the public ground and the boys and men are watching” –Bindu,Varavoor CDS.

Providing opportunities for leadership and achievement
Sport offers women important opportunities to acquire skills and develop their leadership capacities. Currently there are many barriers preventing women from leadership positions. Domestic workload including childbirth and caring of children and elderly parents can limit the flexibility. After participating in the program both their own self perceptions and the way they were perceived by their families changed dramatically.
In the words of one participant: “I have learned how to lead a team. Initially many people opposed my initiative, but I stood strongly in my stand, eventually members from my NHG and other NHGs started to come and joined with us. Now I learned how to mobilize people, How to sensitize them and how to lead them.”-     Lilly Anto, Annamanada.

Facilitating social support and Social inclusion
The combined interaction of traditional cultural and gender norms and poverty often results in girls and women’s social isolation. Kudumbashree movement has a major role to promote social inclusion of women and girls. Kudumbashree NHGs are the strongest social support system in Kerala. But there are reported some cases of drop outs from the NHGs. Basket Ball team from Annamanada CDS have a story of a women who dropped out from their NHG and how they retain that NHG member through the formation of basketball team.
The ‘X’ had been the member of NHG for several years. Recently she shows unnatural behavior and started to quarrel with others. So other members tried to avoid her. Eventually she dropped out from the NHG. Hearing about the formation of basketball team formation in their NHG, She expressed her willingness for joining in the team. But the others opposed her. The team leader Lilly Anto agreed her to join in the team. She became the best player in the team and happened dramatic changes in her life. All the family members came and expressed their gratitude to the team members. They said that she had been under severe depression for the last couple of years. This experience shows that sport can provide a strong social support to the women.
Kudumbashree Mission provide opportunities to gather, develop social network that extend beyond their families, discuss problems, find solutions etc. Through Financial activities women doing banking activities, investing in the education of their children and could mould the future of their family. Through Income generation activities created women self reliant and become smartest, innovative entrepreneurs and through women empowerment programmes they could create their own space in the family and community life, able them to prevent the atrocities against women and children.
Through sports Kudumbashree offers opportunities for physical and leadership development that the other activities do not. Because sport, in most contexts, retains a predominantly masculine culture. It also offers opportunities to challenge and gradually shift gender norms that underpin reinforce social exclusion of girls and women. Through sports we can remove “all the obstacles to women’s mobility in all spheres of public and private life”.