Challenges And Insights

Challenge #1: Lack of Sporting Space

Insight:Be creative. Use the space and materials that are accessible or can be donated by a local partner. Choose a sport that can be played within the context of what is available to you. Basketball will require baskets and a court. However, yoga, kickboxing, or running is much more flexible in terms of necessary infrastructure. It is critical to ensure that the sporting space is a safe space where the girls and women feel comfortable. For example, make a deal with a school or community centre to use their space.

Challenge #2: Taboos and Discomfort with Addressing Sensitive Subjects

Some girls and women who have experienced GBV may find it difficult to open up. They may have been sexually violated during the conflict or are experiencing GBV post-conflict. Beyond the personal struggle, it might be socio-culturally challenging to discuss such topics as GBV.

Insight: Be sensitive and move slowly. Consider performing a drama or other artistic endeavour as a means of expression. Encourage participants to act out feelings and collective solutions. Be sure not to isolate individuals or push women outside of their comfort zones. If possible, reach out to a local psycho-social counsellor who has expertise in this area to help facilitate difficult discussions.

Challenge #3: Limited Resources

The link between poverty and conflict/post-conflict situations has been previously explored. Communities caught up in conflict do not have immediate access to resources as many social services may have deteriorated or have been abandoned completely. In post-conflict areas especially, there is the added challenge to restore basic services in health, education, water supply, and increased life opportunities for women, disabled, children, and the rural population.

Insight: Consider employing a sport that requires little or no equipment. For example, in the DRC, some organisations are using “nzango”, a popular local jumping game played by women and children. It is a low-cost sport and does not require any special attire or equipment. Jump rope or skipping is inexpensive, requires minimal space and equipment and is accessible to people of all ages. Jump rope fosters confidence, leadership, and teamwork. Even at the beginner level, children are able to learn basic jumping techniques fairly quickly. Gymnastics is also another low-cost sport. The “Floor Exercise” is a composition of gymnastics skills that can be done on the ground along with dance skills. All you need is a clean, soft, and safe space.

If finding qualified coaching is a concern, consider enlisting volunteer coaches or training one of the girl/woman leaders to lead activities. Consider soliciting donations of equipment, space, or other resources from other local organisations, individual donors, relief organisations, or international groups.

Challenge #4: Unsafe Public Space

In conflict/post-conflict areas, safety is a continual concern. Certain responsibilities may put girls and women at greater risk of harm; for example, in the course of collecting firewood, water or food, they must venture away from protected areas. They may have to walk near military encampments and checkpoints in order to collect resources, exposing them to harassment and possible sexual assaults. It is critical that traveling to sport programmes not put women in further jeopardy of experiencing GBV.

Insight:Ask girls and women if and how they feel unsafe in their sport participation. Listen to them and customize your strategy based on the concerns. Schedule trainings and games in places and at times that do not endanger girls or women. Consider both the sporting space and the travel to sporting space. When necessary, have trainings in women-only environments. If the playing surface itself is dangerous, enlist participants to clean up broken glass or potential hazards before playing begins.

Challenge #5: Delays in Seeking Treatment

Although women are concerned about their overall health and about STIs and HIV/AIDS in particular, there can be significant delays between the gender-based violence and presentation to medical care. Shame, lack of awareness, fear of outcome, taboos around medical care, and lack of resources to travel to nearby clinics/hospitals can be contributing factors. Coupled with stigma surrounding rape and STIs, the desire to protect the dignity of family, fear of retribution are all challenging barriers contributing to delayed medical treatment.

Insight:Education and support are vital. When girls/women know the facts about the medical complications of gender-based violence, STIs, and pregnancy, they are more likely to seek early care. Bring participants from your sport organisation to community outreach programmes, educational trainings, free testing, and awareness raising events or establishments. Normalizing these experiences and opening up the conversation can reduce stigma, build support, and encourage treatment.

Challenge #6: Conflict-Related Travel Restrictions

Complex conflict/post-conflict situations can pose logistical challenges to movement of participants, coaches, officials, trainers, and supporters. This can also impact the ability to link participants with necessary medical, legal, and social services. Travel can be slow, restricted, or prohibited all together.

Insights: Be cognizant of the restrictions and dangers within the zone where you are operating or asking participants to travel to or from. When restrictions are severe, place or recruit trained staff from within the community to reduce travel. When accessing services is an emergency, connect with organisations that have protection and access to travel to/through restricted regions.

Challenge #7: Unsupportive Caregivers/Partners

The presence of unsupportive caregivers/partners can hinder the rehabilitation process for survivors of GBV. Be mindful of local beliefs; for example, in some countries husbands and fathers believe that girls or women who wear trousers have lost character. Or maybe caregivers/partners do not want their child who had suffered GBV to be involved with others for fear of shame or retribution. They may also be concerned that their child or wife is not participating in the sport programmes after school or work. With these examples in mind, it is important to remember that few sport programmes are successful without the support of caregivers/partners.

Insights:Ask participants what feedback they are getting from home as a result of their participation. Recognise that caregivers/partners can be the single most powerful support OR barrier to participation in a sport programme. When possible, engage caregivers/partners and give them a platform to voice their concerns, through a meeting or open forum, or invite them to training. Educate them about the objectives and training intentions for the programme. Caregivers/partners also play a significant role in creating a family and community environment that is favourable to children remaining active. In Kayonza, Rwanda, caregivers receive signed proof that their child/children are playing sports after school. If caregivers/partners are very reluctant, why not build sport into the school curriculum?

Challenge #8: Gossip and Negative Peer Talk

It is not uncommon for survivors of GBV to be excluded from social activities. Unchecked or unaddressed, a sport programme can exacerbate this problem. This can be particularly prevalent in communities where the sport programme is working with divided groups, based on age, ethnicity, language, economics, or religion. Gossip about survivors, children of rape, or those infected by STIs can spread quickly and with a damaging effect.

Insights:Coaches, teachers, and facilitators have an ethical responsibility to discourage damaging social dynamics and encourage inclusion. Empower and urge them to confront what they are witnessing on an individual and group level. Point out why gossip, social exclusion, and insults threaten the realisation of collective goals. Use team metaphors. Address individual instigators and enquire as to why they are causing trouble. Enlist peer leaders to actively denounce gossip and promote inclusion. Give quieter participants an opportunity to speak privately or in front of the group to help leaders understand dysfunctional dynamics.

Challenge #9: Deciding on the Right Location

Choosing a location for a sport programme can be a complicated matter in a conflict/post-conflict area. On one hand, programme designers want to make sure programming hits the core of those impacted by GBV in the conflict. On the other hand, the epicentres of GBV are often the most dangerous places to run a programme. Furthermore, survivors often flee to safe spaces, making them difficult to serve.

Insights:Use external resources such as police, hospitals, or women’s service providers to map where GBV is happening. Discuss the challenges you are facing with those who are aware of the dynamics and ask for their opinions. Poll women, even informally, to find out where would be safe to play. Be sure to not create an unsafe environment where perpetrators are likely to attack women/girls again.

Challenge #10: Low Levels of Financial Investment in Girls and Women

Programme experiences from diverse settings highlight the importance of enlisting local leaders (both formal and non-formal) in the effort to develop community-wide strategies for addressing GBV. Such networks can increase public and private investment in GBV programming, develop referral networks, build support for institutional reforms, ensure a more comprehensive service response to survivors of GBV, and facilitate awareness-raising among the broader community.

Insights: Advocacy and awareness-raising efforts are crucial components to sport and GBV programming. Research investment opportunities and engage with local government representatives in your area. Find out if there is a budget dedicated to programmes dealing with sport, gender, violence, or children. Talk to and invite ministers and government officials to work with the community and the sport programme. Be consistent and lobby for the government to spend their budgets on girls and women in sport.