Sport may be an unlikely place to look when considering effective means for addressing this global issue. Sport does not have a history of providing safe spaces for girls and women to grow and thrive. Sporting institutions are traditionally male-dominated, off limits to girls and often associated with the same power dynamics and aggression that are contributing factors to gender-based violence.
However, there are qualities inherent in sport that aligns with the core necessities of addressing gender-based violence. Effecting change in this arena means tackling the root causes of gender-based violence – the gender power imbalance and traditional devaluation of girls and women. We know that GBV is more prevalent in situations of political, social, and economic inequity and conflict; as well as in patriarchal societies with rigid notions of manhood, weak social institutions, poor access to information and poor reinforcement of human rights... 47
When girls participate in sport, they challenge the core of GBV – inequity, patriarchy, and rigid gender roles. Beyond the social challenge, the application of sport in combating gender-based violence is practical. Physically when girls play, they become stronger and healthier. They develop a greater ownership and understanding of their bodies. Psychologically, sport can enhance a girl's self esteem and self-efficacy. 48 The success a girl experiences on the sport field translates into her belief in herself off the sport field. The physical and emotional strength sport offers can be a positive force in reducing a girl’s risk of experiencing GBV.
The team environment can offer social support and a forum for girls to share their concerns and experiences, including those related to gender-based violence. It can provide girls with protected access to public space, such as playing fields and streets that would otherwise be considered as dangerous. When girls walk the streets or play as a group, they are less likely to be kidnapped, raped or harassed than if they were alone.
Around the world, women's rights organisations as well as sport organisations are designing sport programmes with the intention of addressing GBV. With well-trained coaches and active community partnerships, these programmes offer girls a place to learn about their rights. On the occasion when a girl is violated, her coach or teammates can function as a support system; offering her options for reporting the violation and accessing the legal, emotional and medical services she will need.
Protection within sport programs
A well-designed sports programme can be a safe haven for girls to become prepared and process the challenges associated with gender-based violence. Without intentional design and protective policies and procedures, sport can become or continue to become an unsafe environment for girls and women. Unequal power dynamics between coaches and girls, mixed-gender interaction, vulnerability in public space, lack of female coaches, and an absence of child protection policies combine to create situations where girls can actually be more susceptible to gender-based violence. Within this Guide, we establish clear guidelines and concrete steps organisations must take to help make their sporting environments safe for all girls and women.
47 . Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/health-nutrition-and-population-statistics
48 . “The main goal of women's self-defense training is to strengthen women's capacity to defend themselves against potential attacks. Yet, the effects of women's self-defense training extend considerably beyond this objective, including physical, psychological, and behavioural impacts” in Brecklin, L. R. (2008). Evaluation outcomes of self-defense training for women: A review. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 13, 16 & Pedersen, S. & Seidman E. (2004). Team sports achievement and self-esteem development among urban adolescent girls. Psychology of Women Quarterly,28, 412–422