Sports have long been used as a way to engage children and young people to improve health, community engagement and life skills. Participation in sports help young people to develop interpersonal networks and a sense of identity, learn negotiation skills and teamwork and seek out new opportunities for learning and growth.
Mounting evidence demonstrates that young adolescents, in particular, benefit greatly from physical activity and sports participation. Physical activity not only promotes a higher sense of self-esteem at a particularly critical moment of development, but also provides a greater sense of independence, self-confidence, body image and overall wellbeing throughout life. Especially in the context of adolescent girls, it has been shown that when girls engage in physical activity, they tend to continue to stay active later in life, leading to enhanced self-confidence. Jumping and kicking a ball around is a terrific way to get girls out of their comfort zone and show the world what they’re made of.
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In addition to the home and school environment, sports is an important venue for learning about gender roles and relationships. Coaches serve as more than just instructors in sports techniques; they are role models for what it means to be an adult.
In India, ICRW has tapped into this unique relationship in an effort to use coaches to model gender equitable attitudes and behaviours for boys and girls. It began with a program to use cricket as a channel for communicating positive messages to young male athletes about the core concepts of masculinity and respect for women. The Parivartan program, which engages with men and boys, has provided evidence that sensitizing young boys and their coaches to gender issues enables them to challenge gender stereotypes and gender-based violence in their homes and communities.
In communities where public spaces are seen as dangerous and off-limits for girls, participation in organized sports can be an important tool for giving girls an opportunity for social connection, as well as developing their confidence and important skills like team work and negotiation. ICRW’s Parivartan for Girls program teaches girls the Indian sport of kabaddi. Participation in kabbadi, and engaging with coaches and mentors, shows that by simply claiming public space, women and girls can effectively challenge gender norms that keep women tied to home.
ICRW’s sports programs for girls are also intended to change community gender norms. They work to build community support to keep girls in school longer (or return to school if they’ve left), thus preventing early/child marriage and preventing violence against women and girls. Programs also provide an avenue to educate adolescent girls about sexual and reproductive health and facilitate access to these health services.