It is typically more comfortable for women and older girls to talk to participants about issues surrounding reproduction and menstruation than it is for males. However, most men coaches of adolescent and teen girls will encounter occasions when a girl’s full participation in a sport programme requires understanding, advice and education about personal and sensitive issues particular to women. For example, if a girl is menstruating and experiencing cramps, she must be able to communicate to her coach without experiencing shame. Or, if a coach notices that a girl is not performing to her potential because she does not have a sport bra, he must be able to offer her resources, if they are available.
When incorporating men in positions of leadership, it is important to recognise that in many societies, girls and women have learned to be submissive to boys and men, who occupy positions of authority. Conscious design and careful selection of men that truly believe in girls’ equality and empowerment is paramount to making male inclusion in the programme successful. Although Women Win believes that including and training women in positions of leadership should be a top organisational priority, most organisations benefit from men’s contributions as well. Including men in efforts to empower girls and women can be beneficial on both ideological and practical levels.
Over time, men have had greater access to sport; therefore, they often have valuable technical knowledge to offer to girls. When teaching girls sport-specific skills, programmes often call upon that expertise. Men who are truly dedicated to empowerment can work directly with girls and show them positive examples of cross-gender communication, behaviour and respect. They can bring a diversity of experience and perspective to a programme. Furthermore, having a male celebrate the strength and athleticism of an adolescent girl can leave a big impression upon the participant.
From a programme point of view, having caring, qualified professionals that embody the principles of the organisation and are dedicated to empowering girls, regardless of gender, is paramount. However, the presence of males, regardless of the individual, has the potential to compromise a girl’s feeling of security within the space and reinforce her belief that men are in charge. If she has experienced gender-based oppression at the hands of a man, she will likely be reluctant to trust and share as freely as she would with a leader who is a woman. There are countless examples of women athletes, in environments that should be about empowerment, being sexually harassed and defiled by their own coaches.
In designing sport programmes for girls, it’s important to be aware of both the risks and benefits of this dynamic to make sure the programme is a success.
Tips on Integrating Men Into a Programme
- Screen the men you plan to hire as coaches or administrators. Interview them about their perception of girls’ empowerment. Ask them about their experience in helping shape strong girls, as opposed to focusing simply on their technical coaching skills.
- If a male coach has no experience with girls’ empowerment, limit his role to occasional training sessions with another female coach present.
- Never allow men to train or travel with girls without an adult woman present. For many groups, this can be financially and logistically difficult to achieve. If you have a male coach, consider asking a women teacher, mother or community member to join in sessions on either a voluntary or paid basis. Create meaningful roles for these women, such as helping with equipment, organizing transportation, communicating with parents or preparing food.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate interaction of male leaders with girls.
- Train all coaches, women and men, on how to talk with girls about sensitive issues, such as sexuality, health and reproduction. Include gender sensitivity sessions in these trainings for all coaches so there exists an honest and open dialogue between male and female coaches as well.
- Educate girls about reporting gender-based violence or abuse when/if it occurs at the hands of men within the organisation. Make sure girls have a trusted woman whom they can talk to and who will help them contact police and/or third-party service providers. (See Safe Spaces section for more information.)
- Encourage girls to view men as partners in their development, as opposed to controllers of it. Establish open lines of communication around sensitive issues. In initial group meetings, acknowledge that all coaches, men and women, understand that menstruation and sexual development is a healthy and normal part of girls’ coming of age. Ensure that coaches respect and believe girls when they say they cannot participate because of cramps or other discomfort related to reproductive health.
- If girls are not comfortable using formal language around sensitive issues, welcome them to come up with a code word to communicate with all coaches, male or women, when they are menstruating.
- Maintain clear boundaries around discussions with girls. Do not get into discussions about girls’ sexual behaviour. If a girl needs to discuss sexuality and other personal topics, refer her to an adult woman within the programme.
For more information on engaging boys and men in girls’ sport programming, go to the Community Engagement section of this guide.