How can sport empower girls? Let’s ask them.

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world. Every one of them deserves equal opportunities for a better future. Yet, most girls face discrimination and disadvantage on a daily basis.

As girls around the world are learning, sport has the power to transcend boundaries of sex, race, religion and nationality. From gaining leadership skills and finding common ground to tackle tough issues, sport empowers girls. Women and girls in sport defy gender stereotypes, make inspiring role models and show men and women as equals.

On the occasion of the International Day of the Girl (11 October), we asked girls what sport means to them. See what girls involved in UN Women programmes around the world have to say about empowerment through sport.

Jordan

Syrian refugee and Jordanian girls participate in a mixed-nationality football camp in Jordan. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig

This year, the International Day of the Girl calls for action to “EmPOWER girls: Before, during and after conflict”. Girls in conflict and humanitarian emergency situations are often subject to physical and sexual violence, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking. But, they are also powerful change agents.

In Jordan, soccer camps are helping build cohesion within communities fraught with challenges. More than one million Syrian refugees live in Jordan today, facing challenges of mistrust, vulnerability and legal status, making community integration challenging. Football camps are helping girls bridge the gap to build trust and lasting friendships among Jordanians and Syrians.

“I never thought I would play or talk with Syrian girls. The camp gave me an opportunity to get to know them closely and understand we have a lot in common.”
-Maha, 15, Jordan

Three soccer camps in 2016 brought together 400 girls, giving them the common ground to improve trust, break stereotypes and value one another’s differences. The connections are spreading past the girls, helping their entire families to learn about one another and live peacefully.

Brazil

Micaele Fernandes gets ready for handball practice. Photo: UN Women/Gustavo Stephan
“Playing sport teaches us confidence, how to develop leadership, honour our values and work as a team … I want all girls to believe in themselves, pursue their goals and not be deterred by what others think about them. Being a winner is fighting for what you believe in and never giving up. After all, trying to be better than you were yesterday already makes you a winner.”
-Micaele Fernandes, 16, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Micaele is a handball player and part of the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme in Rio De Janiero. As part of the programme, weekly workshops offer a safe space for girls to talk about gender inequalities, to work on their self-esteem and leadership skills, to learn about their bodies and health, to gain financial literacy and knowledge on how to access public services if they experience gender-based violence.

South Africa

Girls show off their soccer SKILLZ at the Yomelela Primary School, Khayalitsha Cape Town, on 1 June 2015. Photo: UN Women/Karin Schermbrucker

In South Africa, sport provides a safe haven and opportunity for learning about HIV prevention and gender-based violence.

“Before I was a member of SKILLZ Street I didn’t know where I was headed. But now I know where I’m from, where I’m headed, and where I want to be in the future. It’s built so much confidence in me, because I know what’s ahead for me. I feel proud of myself that I am part of the positive side, the safe side.”
-Yamkela Nqweniso, 14, Khayletisha South Africa

Yamkela was born and raised in Khayletisha, the largest informal township in Cape Town, South Africa, where there’s a high prevalence of HIV and Aids and limited social infrastructure. She is one of 100 adolescent girls a part of Grassroot Soccer’s programme, a civil society organization empowering youth through sport, and grantee of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against women (UNTF), managed by UN Women.

Along with athletic training, girls are mentored by peer coaches on preventing HIV and gender-based violence through the innovative “SKILLZ Street” programme.

Moldova

Stela Savin during boxing training. Photo: UN Women Moldova/Diana Savina

In Moldova, boxing has empowered Stela Savin to break from the Roma tradition of marrying young and abandoning her education.

“I fell in love with sports as a kid. My brothers trained and I did not want to just look. I wanted to do the same. I am honouring our Roma traditions. I am never going to abandon them. However, I don’t want to leave school and training and get married. I have a dream and I am going to do all I can to make it happen. I don’t know why girls think they can’t do the same as boys do?”
- Stela Savin, 14, Hînceşti, Moldova

Traditionally, Roma girls in Moldova tend to get married and start families early in life. Many cut their education short and leave school to start a family. Often it is taken for granted that at a very young age they will marry the man their family has chosen for them. Stela respects her family and works hard, but in return she asked their support for her own life choices. Luckily, she got their full support.

Want more stories of empowered girls? Visit our collection of stories for the International Day of the Girl: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/girl-child

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.