Empowering Girls Through Sport

Sport empowers. Over the last decade, sport has increasingly been used as a tool for empowering youth in developing countries. However, opportunities to participate in sport are often designed for, and dominated by, boys and men. Gender inequity and discrimination remain deeply entrenched and widely tolerated throughout the world, resulting in a devastating and cascading list of global social, economic and development costs. Limitations placed upon adolescent girls and young women restrict them from fulfilling their potential and play a significant role in perpetuating the world’s poorest economies.

We know that sport is empowering, particularly for girls, and challenge gender norms. Sport participation offers girls an opportunity to build their self-esteem, courage and self-efficacy. It is a place where they can take up leadership positions and through sport programs girls' belief in their own ability increases. This translates into everyday life – it encourages them to take initiative, raise their voices and attempt things they never assumed were possible. When community members see girls achieve in sport, they often recognize their potential to achieve in other domains.  Lastly, sport is a powerful tool and platform to strengthen social ties, networks, engage the community and promote positive messages. In short, wins on the field translate into wins off the field – One Win Leads to Another.

Women Win’s Theory of Change

Women Win has developed a theory of change based on the belief that all adolescent girls are born leaders. This theory serves as a foundation for all our programmes and activities. We believe that leadership is a set of skills, behaviours, and attitudes that can be learned, practised, and refined through experience, mentorship, and education. We believe that all girls and young women have leadership capacities that will become evident once recognized and nurtured. Women Win defines leadership as follows:

Leadership reflects the ability of a girl or young woman to exercise her rights and drive change.

Women Win has identified three stages of leadership development in adolescent girls that we have called Prepare, Practise, and Play.


A girl discovers and develops her skills and talents, and becomes aware of her leadership potential. She accumulates knowledge and information. She finds the confidence to set challenging goals for herself and strives to live by her values. This includes being proud of where she came from as well as where she’s going.


A girl connects and interacts with others, which means she learns to expand and strengthen her leadership potential and skills. Through interaction she learns how to team up, solve conflicts, and have healthy relationships. It’s in this stage that her leadership abilities and confidence further develop and solidify.


A girl takes action and influences and motivates others by applying her skills. She creates change by doing and giving back to her community. Girls can play at different levels, demonstrating leadership in their own lives, giving back to the community, or making an international impact, or all three.


Leadership Competencies

In each leadership development stage and throughout all Women Win activities, AGYW acquire leadership skills, attitudes and knowledge, and develop an array of competencies. In order for adolescent girls to grasp leadership and apply it in their lives, Women Win created a concrete concept of leadership.  We defined four core competencies that reflect an adolescent girls’ journey to becoming a leader for social change in her community.


  • Develop and express own opinions and thoughts
  • Speak in public
  • Communicate to move others (storytelling, using social media, pitching an idea)


  • Identify strengths and celebrate successes
  • Take risks Take risks and step up to challenges
  • Fail forward


  • See the possibility for change
  • Set goals
  • Inspire and motivate others to action


  • Make decisions
  • Solve problems
  • Create and seize opportunities


Why Invest In Girls?

Six hundred million girls are growing up in developing countries today.1 International authorities, from the World Bank to the United Nations, agree that the most effective way to fight poverty in the world is to help girls and women. Research has shown that if you invest in girls, you invest in society because the education, increased earnings and human development of adolescent girls have a direct impact upon their families. This is becoming known as the “Girl Effect”. Because women often serve as primary caretakers, every dollar invested in a girl also benefits her family and her community. When the individual girl understands her rights and believes in herself, she will improve her life and the lives of others.

The adolescent girl participating in a well-designed sport programme can use her newly acquired skills and knowledge to inform and influence at the family and community levels. To start, her participation in a sport programme often requires negotiation of rights at home – as her participation often is breaking gender norms in a family or community of what girls can and should do with their time and bodies. Furthermore, many girl-centred rights-based sport programmes use the power of sport to attract and engage the community in outreach meetings, events or campaigns, as a place to inform and mobilise the community on a wide range of issues affecting girls and women in their daily lives. Girls are encouraged to take the leadership in creating and implementing these outreach events or campaigns. Women Win believes this creates a powerful multiplier effect at a family/community level.

How Does Sport Advance Women’s Rights?

Women Win uses sport as a strategy to advance women’s rights with focus on three core rights-based issues: 

  • Addressing Gender-Based Violence
  • Accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
  • Gaining Economic Empowerment 

Through extensive consultation with experts in the field and the most up-to-date research, we have created several frameworks that show explicitly how sport can be used as a tool to advance girls’ rights related to gender-based violence (particularly in conflict or post-conflict situations), sexual and reproductive health and rights, and economic empowerment. All of our frameworks are based on a core set of life skills we feel are important for adolescent girls to learn and practice in order to develop their leadership as well as access and exercise their rights. These frameworks serve as the foundation for our guides, curricula and other tools as well as the basis for our girl-centric outcomes that show how change happens in the voice of the girls themselves.