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Equal access and participation of migrant women and girls in sports

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Equal access and participation of migrant women and girls in sports

Women and girls (especially those with a background of displacement) face multiple barriers, but a recent study shows successful strategies can ensure their inclusion in sport.

This article is a response to our call for articles on sport and refugees. If you would like to contribute, you can find out more here.

Women's rights are human rights. When it comes to ensuring that the rights of all women and girls are respected, the sports sphere can and must play its part. But which barriers do exist for migrant women and girls to play sports? Which strategies are successful to foster their inclusion in grassroots sports? What recommendations can be given to grassroots sport clubs and initiatives?

These were main questions for a study that Camino, a research institute from Germany, conducted in 2020 in the context of the SPIN Women project, with the support of the SPIN partner organizations. In the study, we focused on refugees and marginalised groups, such as the Roma community. The study relies on an approach based on experience: 54 experts, more than half of them women, met in focus groups in seven countries.  

Promoting the inclusion of migrants and refugees always entails dealing with the issue of racism and discrimination. However, migrant women and girls are not only disadvantaged because they are migrants but also because they are female. This double disadvantage becomes apparent within the context of the barriers that we discovered in the study. There is a lack of role models and empowerment of migrant women and girls in sports, as well as a lack of specific promotion by sport programmes for women and girls. Many refugee women and girls are confronted with patriarchal family structures on the one hand, and with male-dominated sports structures on the other hand.

Structural barriers consist in high expenses for equipment or club fees, a lack of transport to the activities and safety concerns for offers in the evening. Sport clubs are often focused on performance and rarely offer activities that allow newcomers to try out various new types of sport, open and suitable for women and girls with different levels of sporting experience.

The work with refugee women and girls involves special barriers, mostly due to their experiences of war and flight. In dealing with women and girls who have been exposed to sexual violence or are traumatized for other reasons, it is crucial to find a sensitive way of dealing with their physical boundaries in order to avoid that sports becomes a psychologically debilitating factor.

Even though there are strong barriers linked to gender inequality and migrant exclusion, the study shows that there exist successful strategies for inclusion. These strategies include ways to reach migrant women and girls: female role models can make success visible and cultural mediators can build bridges to migrant communities, especially to parents who are often the key to their daughter`s participation. It is advisable to embed sporting activities within the framework of another support system for marginalized families, if competent partners from the social care sector are available.

Sport classes under the heading of health promotion, combined with information and advice, have also met with great interest among migrant and refugee women. Offering childcare or parallel sessions for mothers and children are possibilities to reach those who are occupied with family duties. Sport sessions combined with social activities are apt to reach those women and girls who are either anxious or not interested in "sports only". Unknown types of sport can arouse curiosity and place all participants in the same situation, i.e. that of an absolute beginner. Fostering qualification of migrant women and girls as coaches and referees is another important point, as well as making clubs more accessible and welcoming by becoming more female and ensuring a safe, discrimination-free environment.


SPIN Women (Sport Inclusion of Migrant and Minority Women: Promoting sports participation and leadership capacities) is a project of the Sport Inclusion Network (SPIN), co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme. SPIN partners are the Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation (VIDC-fairplay) from Austria, Liikkukaa – Sport for all from Finland, UISP from Italy, the football players' union SJPF from Portugal, Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights Organization from Hungary, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Camino from Germany.

The study is published here.

Victoria Schwenzer studied European Ethnology and is a researcher at Camino Werkstatt (Berlin, Germany). Since 2011, she has conducted various projects for the Sport Inclusion Network (SPIN).



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Victoria Schwenzer


Friday, September 4, 2020 - 15:38