Why Sport Is An Effective Platform

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1. Sport Makes Girls Aware and in Control of Their Bodies

When a girl plays sport, she gains awareness of her body. When she is running, she recognises her lungs expanding, beads of sweat forming on her face. If she is playing netball, she learns to feel the ball on her fingertips, learns what her body feels like when she jumps, runs, becomes fatigued, and grows stronger. How a girl performs during physical activity relies on her ability to sense and control her body. To run faster means getting on her toes, pumping her arms, building her muscles.  

This awareness and control has an empowering effect. If a girl considers her body her own, she is more likely to become aware of, understand and demand bodily integrity. Girls who do experience GBV often disassociate from their body during the abuse as a survival mechanism and afterwards, as they often see their bodies as vessels for the violation. When handled with expertise and sensitivity, sport can help instil an element of resiliency, aiding the healing process.

2. Sport Gets Girls Out of the Home

Research shows that the large majority of GBV takes place in the home, where the survivor often experiences recurring attacks. 49 In relation to girls, the crime is perpetrated most often by a male relative in a position of trust, and the rights of the girl or young woman are usually sacrificed in order to protect the honour of the family and that of the adult perpetrator. 50 When a girl participates in a sport programme, she creates a social safety net and outlet that can be a lifeline outside of her domestic environment.  

3. Sport Gathers a Captive and Motivated Audience

With properly trained coaches, the sport setting can be an ideal place to deliver gender-based violence education to girls as well providing an outlet for discussion and resources for reporting violations. It offers an opportunity to convene girls outside of school, home, church or work. The coach has a captive audience, often without distractions or external pressures. Playing games, wearing a uniform, socializing with teammates and spending time in an environment where they are valued all serve as incentives for girls to learn about their rights and resources. Several programme partners report combining training sessions with life skills lessons. If a girl wants to play, she is required to attend educational sessions. Beyond the logistical advantages, when coaches and peer leaders develop girls’ trust, they can serve as a vital outlet for discussing questions and reporting incidences of abuse.  

4. Sport Builds Trust and Social Support through Team

Anyone who has ever played on a team understands the bonds created between teammates. For a team to succeed on the field (or court), they need to develop a tight-knit connection off the field. This bond is built over time, by sharing space, learning to communicate, setting and achieving common goals and overcoming challenges together. For any girl, the resulting social net can be an incredible asset in navigating adolescence. If a girl lives in poverty, feels isolated in her home or has experienced gender-based violence, the value of the social support and trust of a team can be even more powerful.

5. Sport Teaches Girls to Ask for Help

“There is no ‘I’ in T.E.A.M.” That age-old sports proverb gets at the heart of what it means to be to be part of a team. No one can score a goal or win a game alone. An inherent lesson in team sport participation is mutual reliance. Sport teaches girls that they are not alone, that they are responsible for each other, and that success means being able to accept help. When a girl experiences GBV, she can rely on this knowing that it is OK to ask for help from a trusted coach, peer leader or teammate.   

6. Self Esteem and Self-efficacy Translates

There are plenty of times when GBV is out of a girl’s control completely – when she is physically dominated, economically dependent, psychologically or socially bound. And there are other circumstances where a girl's self esteem can play a pivotal role in her ability to resist violence or abuse. A girl who believes she is worthy, is less likely to allow another to abuse her and more likely to say “no.” Given positive coaching, sport can be filled with lessons of self-esteem and confidence building. Girls are afforded rare opportunities to become leaders, to build physical strength, to be exposed to strong role models, to witness and be applauded for their own progress, to use their voices. When girls participate in sport, they inhibit the spaces that are generally perceived to male-centric. It increases their belief in their own ability. This translates into everyday life – it encourages them to take initiatives and attempt things they never assumed were possible.

7. Girls Participation in Sport Unsettles Gender Order

At the root of GBV is an unequal distribution of power between men and women. The mere existence of girls participating in sport - a male dominated sphere - shakes this gender power order. If girls and women can play football or basketball, they show that they can be aggressive and physical. This adoption of space often reserved as “masculine” and demonstration of strength can contribute to changing gender norms. When girls play, they raise questions about deeply rooted notions of masculinity and femininity. In doing so, they challenge the primary building block of their submission.

8. Sport Encourages Boundary Setting

All games have rules. Most sport settings have boundaries. Part of playing the game revolves around learning the rules and boundaries, abiding by them and demanding that others do as well. When it comes to girls’ bodies and sexuality, a key to educating girls about GBV is helping them understand what acceptable behaviour is and what a violation is. In cultural settings where girls see women being violated constantly, where girls feel inferior to men and boys, it can be very challenging for girls to draw these lines. Using their sporting experience as a framework can help girls subconsciously develop an understanding of fairness, justice and violation.  

9. Sport Builds Courage

Whether it is swimming for the first time, going up against a tough opponent or sparring with a bigger boxer, sport offers a chance to look fear in the eyes. Girls learn not to be intimidated by others’ aggression and to understand their own. It also offers girls a chance to develop their courage and overcome fears. Reporting an abuse, standing up to a perpetrator or asking for help in surviving GBV takes more courage than any sporting endeavour. However, the confidence a girl develops in her sport experience has the potential to lend to her capacity and experience in overcoming the fear of reporting or seeking services and recourse.

10. Sport Gives Girls a Proud Place in the Community

Adolescent girls are often not entitled to inhabit public space in their community. When they do enter public space, they often face threats of harassment, kidnapping, rape or embarrassment. When a girl participates in a sport programme, a shift occurs. These same girls are protected by the safety in numbers and the supervision of a coach or programme leader. Their existence on the playing field or basketball court gives them a certain entitlement to public space. When community members see them playing, their abilities and strength can begin to shift perceptions of their capacity and nature. Several programme partners report community members eventually cheering girls on at tournaments and events with girls becoming a source of local pride. They become role models for others – especially for their mothers. It creates a ripple effect within the community.  


49 . The World Bank (n.d.). Gender-Based Violence, Health and the role of the Health Sector. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPHAAG/Resources/AAGGBVHealth.pdf

50 . Unicef (2000). Domestic Violence against women and girls. Innocent Digest, 6, 1-29. Retrieved fromhttp://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest6e.pdf