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The importance of building solidarity

Copyrights: Sudipto Das

The importance of building solidarity

Transnational feminism recognises the differences in experiences of women, but also acknowledges the need to build solidarity. Sport can be a powerful space where different women can build this common ground.

[This article was submitted as part of our call for articles on using sport to support displaced women and girls. Submit your articles to us by 11 November 2021.]

In a field like sport for development (SfD), policymakers, funders, scholars, and practitioners alike are keen to showcase and harness the potential of sport to work towards the resolution of social issues such as integration. En route, we tend to inflate sport’s potential, sometimes going as far as assuming that pure participation will help solve global issues. Sport, however, must be purposefully designed, oriented, and implemented to achieve wider social outcomes.

For displaced girls and women, there are additional considerations to undertake if sport is to be the medium through which they are integrated, empowered, and included. In this article, we use the specific lens of transnational feminism to offer ways in which sport can be used for the integration of displaced women and girls, discussing some extant programmes that demonstrate the positive impact of sport, and finally making recommendations.

Transnational feminism

To understand how sport can be used to further the integration, empowerment and social inclusion of displaced women and girls in different settings, we base our approach on the principles of transnational feminism. Transnational feminism is a way of converging across what Grewal and Kaplan (1994) refer to as “scattered hegemonies” that women face in diverse contexts and placing them within the global systems in which they exist. The main principles of such a lens is in its recognition of differences in experiences faced by women of different contexts, but also its emphasis on solidarity-building.

Transnational feminist praxis is aptly described by Khader (2019) as one that is united in its opposition to gender injustice but one that also recognises that “different means are effective in different contexts.” She explains that “we should expect actions that reduce gender injustice to look different under different conditions” (p.133). Transnational feminism thus encourages a reading of the different ways diverse groups of women negotiate power dynamics in varying settings, while allowing for broader connections to be forged for creating wider networks that link women’s action for common agendas towards social change (Moghadam, 2000). For transnational feminist research to be significant, it needs to establish shared frames of reference to recognise the differences and commonalities across diverse experiences and contexts. Sport presents a complementary site for transnational feminist praxis and research, offering a “common ground” through which to research diverse women’s experiences.

Within the context of displaced women and girls, transnational feminism does not impose a single ideal for striving towards, nor does it make grandiose claims to save women’s lives. In other words, it does not see sport as a vehicle to impose one set of values over another, nor does it claim sport to be the answer to these groups’ problems. The approach discourages “remaking-the world” (Khader, 2019, p.4) and instead acknowledges that “social change almost always involves long-term negotiation with existing structures of power and systems of meaning” (Khader, 2019, p.6).

Through transnational feminism, researchers and practitioners are encouraged to recognise the differences in experience and values of displaced women and their host countries, while encouraging the forging of connections across contexts for solidarity-building through sport.

From Australia…

To demonstrate our advocacy for such an approach, we give a few examples of scholars and an organisation who are doing this type of work. For example, in Australia, Luguetti et al. (2021) enlisted the help of local, refugee-background young women to co-create a football programme. Throughout this process, solidarity was built through multiple means: amongst the local, young women; between the lead researcher and the young women; and between the young women and the community in which the programme takes place. Ultimately, the researchers and participants found it impactful to share experiences and identify the barriers they have faced in sport participation. From that data, they used an activist approach to co-create a workshop for coaches, so upcoming female athletes in their town wouldn’t have to face those same barriers.

…To Jordan

On the other side of the world, in Jordan, is Reclaim Childhood (RC), a grassroots NGO focussed on teaching sport, leadership, and socioemotional skills to girls and young women. With a mix of refugees and non-refugees, staff and volunteers help girls and young women build solidarity with one another, which is then translated beyond the pitch. These relationships appear to be the heart and soul of the organisation and act as the foundation for empowerment. Reclaim Childhood hosts female-only coaching clinics as well as an adolescent leadership programme to complement the technical and life skills that they teach through sports. In both RC’s and Luguetti’s cases, we get the sense that everyone involved is committed to enhancing their lives, rather than imposing one set of ideals over the other’s.

Building common ground

Finally, we must emphasise the importance of the sport environment. The space utilised for sport is, literally and figuratively, the “common ground” on which girls and women from diverse backgrounds can build solidarity. How that space is created and maintained by sport leaders and facilitators can either enhance or undermine integration, empowerment and social inclusion.

In a study by Lleixá and Nieva (2018, the authors investigated primary school physical education (PE) teachers’ perceptions on including immigrant girls in PE. They found that teachers were starkly underprepared to address issues related to interculturality in the PE space. Teachers generally spoke of immigrant children collectively, rather than specifically about girls, and mostly struggled to include Muslim girls compared to immigrants from other religions. This notion is supported by Dagkas (2011), who notes: “The nature of spaces, policies and practices inside which learning takes place [created] barriers for some Muslim families. Some of those were fixed, others could be changed” (p. 236).

So, what are the factors that can—and should—change for practitioners working with displaced girls and women?

Struggling together

The implications we take from the discussion above are crucial to the way we think about the role of sport for the inclusion and empowerment of displaced girls. The study by Luguetti and colleagues (shows the importance and impact of “the researcher and young women [who] struggled together” (p. 16). The extent of the young women’s learning helped them find agency and empowerment to plan and implement a coaches’ clinic.

Further, the model that Reclaim Childhood follows is a paradigm that other NGOs can follow. Refugee girls and women are humans first, and they and their learning must be protected by helping them integrate by refugees and non-refugees alike. From the study by Lleixá and Nieva we can conclude that PE teachers and coaches, especially those working with diverse groups, need to be trained on interculturality and intersectionality so they can better include girls and women from different cultures. Their study found a noticeable lack of solidarity-building, and we believe that such training would greatly enhance the relationships between PE teachers and coaches with their displaced student-athlete girls. 

Taking the notion of solidarity-building further, we allude to the possibility of forming transnational feminist networks (Moghadam, 2000) within the SfD space and focusing on displaced women. These networks, based on localised knowledges gained through partner organisations, can facilitate collective action and advocacy for furthering the integration, empowerment and social inclusion of displaced women and girls in different settings.


Anna Farello and Hussa Al-Khalifa are doctoral students in Sport for Development and Peace at Loughborough University London.



Dagkas, S., Benn, T., & Jawad, H. (2011) Multiple voices: Improving participation of Muslim girls in physical education and school sport. Sport, Education and Society, 16(2), 223-239. DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2011.540427

Grewal, I., & Kaplan, C. (1994). Scattered hegemonies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Khader, S. (2019). Decolonizing universalism: a transnational feminist ethic. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lleixà T., & Nieva C. (2018). The social inclusion of immigrant girls in and through physical education. Perceptions and decisions of physical education teachers. Apunts : Educación Física y Deportes, (134), 69-83.

Luguetti, C., Singehebhuye, L., & Spaaij, R. (2021). 'Stop mocking, start respecting': An activist approach meets African Australian refugee-background young women in grassroots football. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1-18.

Moghadam, V. (2000). Transnational Feminist Networks: Collective Action in an Era of Globalization. International Sociology, 15(1), 57-85. doi: 10.1177/0268580900015001004

Reclaim Childhood (2021). 


sportanddev published this content as part of our partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. For more information on using sport in work with refugees please visit the UNHCR website.


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Anna Farello & Hussa Al-Khalifa


Monday, November 1, 2021 - 10:30

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