There are crucial elements that all programmes should consider when addressing safety. Female coaches, trainers and all staff interacting with the girls are indispensable for creating safe spaces. They are primarily responsible for both assuring girls feel emotionally secure and comfortable within the sport environment, protected from physical harm.
Programme leaders cannot always ensure safety outside of their programme. Serving girls fully means giving them the knowledge and skills to handle themselves in their environment, both inside the programme and outside in the world. Programmes can also help girls develop coping mechanisms for dealing with personal safety challenges outside the programme.
Physically Safe Spaces
- Ensure that play space is clean and free from harmful objects, such as broken glass and posts.
- Ensure the playing surfaces are even without holes or rough surfaces that could cause injury. Clearly mark dangers.
- Always have First Aid materials ready in case of injury.
- Ensure that girls have adequate protective gear for sports that require it.
- Schedule sessions at times where girls do not have to walk to or from home in the dark.
- Establish the rules of the game girls are playing and enforce fair play.
- Adopt a no-fighting policy within the programme. This should apply to participants, coaches and volunteers and should include physical and verbal attacks.
- Train the coaches to ensure they are able to maintain safe spaces for the girls.
- Become acquainted with neighbours in the area.
- Identify and network with hospitals for referral services in case of an emergency.
- Consider appropriate child:coach ratio. This will depend on the type of sport being played.
- Advise the girls against taking to strangers and if approached, direct them to their coaches, parents or caregivers.
- Have access to safe and clean toilet facilities and drinking water.
Emotionally Safe Spaces
- Invite the girls to define what is important for the creation of their safe space.
- Have girls create and sign a code of conduct for training sessions and sensitive discussions. Have them decide what parameters will be put on confidentiality and the resulting penalties when the agreed upon code is broken.
- Teach girls communication skills to help them peacefully resolve conflicts among one another.
- Consider holding sessions in spaces that can be physically enclosed, to keep outsiders out and to help girls feel secure.
- These do not need to be built from scratch. You can often work out agreements to use existing courts, gyms and public spaces.
- If possible, forbid non-participants, such as boyfriends, from observing regular practice sessions and discussions, as girls are likely to feel intimidated or inhibited in front of an audience.
- Ensure that there is always an adult woman present when a male is involved in sport training with the girls.
- Be aware of bullying. Demand individual respect from and for all girls.
- Set out a box for girls to give feedback and suggest conversation topics.
- Allow girls to speak about sensitive topics in the language that is most comfortable. However, be aware that girls who do not speak the majority language may feel marginalized.
- Discourage rumours and gossip.
- Encourage shared power among the girls. Don’t allow one girl to exercise power over another e.g. team selection.
- Provide private changing rooms. Although a permanent girls-only space is preferable, it is fine to use a space to change that is used by both men and women, as long as boys are prohibited from entering during the time girls are using it. In conservative cultures, it may be necessary to establish same-sex spaces and/or clothing accommodations to ensure girls are comfortable.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse or harassment.
- Provide training to all members of the organisation about what that means and what steps to take in the case of an incident.
- Revisit these concepts continually. Many programmes have new members joining regularly, and it is important to discuss rules and expectations with new members. Older or more experienced members can lead these discussions.
- It is also important that coaches maintain confidentiality and do not endanger the trust that they have cultivated with the girls. They should remember that the girls may have experienced prior instances where their trust has been compromised.