CHALLENGING INEQUALITY/ INCLUSIVE PHYSICAL HEALTH EDUCATION
Promoting Gender Equality in Sports
This article talks about the discrimination faced by girls in sports and what schools can do to rectify this imbalance.
Participating in sports has a host of benefits. Some of these are improvement of health and well-being, fostering of self-esteem and empowerment, facilitation of social inclusion and integration and also opening doors for achievement at national and international levels. None of these benefits are exclusive to boys and it is important that schools recognize the need of ensuring the same opportunities and benefits are available to girls as well. Sports can be an effective tool for amplifying women’s voices and tearing down traditional gender barriers. Women in sports defy the commonly held misconception that girls and women are weak and incapable of participating in activities that require physical strength - an attribute generally associated with boys and men. Today, women are far more visible in sports than at any previous point in history. Famous Indian sportswomen like P V Sindhu, Mary Kom, Deepa Malik, etc. are not only an inspiration for millions of girls but are also challenging traditional social norms and inhibitions that restrict girls from participating in and pursuing careers in sports. It is important that the stories of these successful sports-women empower schools and parents to recognize the benefits of introducing girls to sports.
Challenges in achieving Gender Equality in Sports
- Exposure- From the moment a boy is born, he is exposed to sports being linked to his assigned gender identity-baby blankets with balls on them, baby’s first football, baby’s first cricket bat, etc. This messaging only grows stronger as boys grow older. Meanwhile, girls are bombarded with images not of strong female athletes, but of external beauty. Not only do they lack positive role models in sports, but they may also face stereotypes and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Girls are thus discouraged from participating in sports and a greater effort is required by schools if they are to be encouraged into participating and enjoying sports.
- Negative Experiences- Bad experiences in Sports classes are a shared phenomenon among schoolgirls. Several girls are made to feel uncomfortable due to their clothing or body, not allowed to try the same activities as boys, and made to feel less in class. This, too, is part of a larger, cultural phenomenon and many girls all over the country are limited in their opportunities for physical movement and improving their health due to negative female stereotypes and sexist commentary that they are subjected to by their peers and teachers. Girls also receive negative social attention for playing “male” sports and are even teased, bullied and harassed for being physically active outdoors.
- Funding and Infrastructure- Given the abysmal participation of girls in sports, schools rarely fund girls’ sports or provide infrastructure for the same. This further discourages the girls from participating in sports and creates a problematic cycle of deprivation. In co-educational schools where sports classes are conducted, it is not uncommon to find the boys being given access to the sports equipment over girls. Female coaches are not hired and girls often feel uncomfortable participating in sports under male coaches alone. All of these factors make girls feel that the arena of sports is unwelcoming and not open to them.
- Sexism and Socio-Cultural Barriers- It has been found that sexist physical education can obstruct access to girls’ participation. Girls often report a wide range of gendered, socio-cultural barriers that stop them from taking part in certain activities. These range from self-consciousness and worries about the ability to restrictive cultural beliefs and safety concerns. Schools play a crucial role in destroying or maintaining the norms that serve to naturalize gender inequality, sexism, sexual harassment, and bullying and often end up reinforcing problematic beliefs and structures that deprive girls of a chance to participate in sports.
To move toward change, schools and teachers need to critically examine what they are reinforcing, what type of environment they are creating, and what lessons children are learning about what girls and boys are permitted to do. There is a need for the school to engage with its female students to understand what the school can do for them to make the arena of sports more meaningful, enjoyable, and comfortable for them since there are no universal solutions available for the same. Suitable infrastructure must be provided.
Girls must be allowed to wear clothing they are comfortable playing in and not subjected to punishment or suspicion for wanting to excel in sports. Any negative remarks or discouraging comments must be confronted and students must be taught about the need for sports using gender-neutral language.
The following activities are designed to encourage students to challenge internalized biases about women in sports and to take a more appreciative view of the struggles and achievements of women in sports. These are all activities that can be done in the classroom and require the students to have access to the internet or a good library for research purposes.
- Appreciating women’s struggle in the Sports Arena
For High School Students- Divide the class into a few groups and assign each group a topic related to women’s struggle in sports to research upon. A few examples of such topics are-
a. History of Sexism in the Olympics
b. Wage Gap between sportsmen and sportswomen participating in the same sports
c. Problematic or sexist clothing requirements for sportswomen
After a day or two, ask each group to present the topic they have researched upon and use this as an opportunity to talk respectfully about the obstacles that women have had to face in order to participate in the field of sports.
For Elementary or Middle School Students- Narrate a story or read out a simple essay to the class about the struggles women have had to face and engage with the students on their learnings from the story/essay. The story/essay could deal with the issues mentioned as examples above.
2. Watching Women’s Sports
It is a common misconception that women are not good at sports. To bust this myth, organize a screening of a women’s sports event- live or repeat, and encourage students to appreciate the skill that goes into the sport. Given that not all students enjoy watching all sports, consult with students beforehand on what sport they would like to watch, and show them the highlights of a match if time falls short.
Alternatively, the class could watch a movie about women’s sports (such as Bend It Like Beckham, Chak De India, Dangal, Kanaa, or any regional movie, etc.) and discuss their learnings from it. Engage the class in a discussion about what they thought the challenges the women in the movie faced and how they were able to overcome the same (eg. with the help of a supportive coach, with support from friends, with parental guidance, etc.)
3. Finding Role Models
Put students in pairs and ask them to research upon the life of a famous female athlete. Make sure that no pair selects the same athlete and try to get students to choose athletes from as many different sports as possible. Ask the students to present their findings in class and talk about the process of researching the athlete as well as why they feel the said athlete could be a good role model for students. Those who are afraid of speaking up in class can be made to write a poem about their findings that the teacher could read out, or make a chart/poster about the said athlete that could be put up on the classroom wall. This will help students not only understand that women can excel at several sports, but also help them find new role models and understand the struggles and achievements of female athletes.
This blog has been written for FLOURISH, a non-profit initiative that seeks to improve children’s language learning skills and value education through inclusive bilingual stories and activities. Buy Book 1 of Flourish from our website flourishbooks.app.
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