Kabaddi making a difference
Kabaddi making a difference
A traditional Indian sport is being used to advance adolescent girls’ health and create safe spaces for them.
Chal Saheli Khelein Kabaddi, De Kabaddi…Khel Kabaddi (‘come friend, let’s play kabaddi!’) was the chorus at a recent kabaddi tournament in Dholpur, in Rajasthan State. But this was a kabaddi tournament with a difference – it was exclusively for rural girls’ teams, in a part of India where girls are usually confined to fulfilling traditional gender roles in the home and village. Girls in Dholpur rarely play sport except in school, and public spaces such as sports fields are seen as the domain of boys. The PANKH (Promoting Adolescents’ Engagement Knowledge and Health) project, designed and implemented by ICRW along with its partner PRADAN is working to challenge attitudes about gender and to transform gender relations, which is no easy task in communities where gender inequality is deeply entrenched. The project aims to help girls take charge of their lives in matters such as health, education and marriage, and to reclaim community spaces for them.
The kabaddi tournament, in which more than 3,000 girls from 125 villages took part, was the climax of the first year of the project. During the year, girls met twice a week for recreation and kabaddi sessions. But the project goes beyond sport: after each kabaddi session, project staff lead group education sessions with the girls, covering gender-related topics ranging from marriage and education to gender-based violence and menstruation. The powerful attraction of sport draws the girls together, enabling PRADAN to work with them to address these issues which are rarely talked about in Dholpur society. Also, the bonds developed by playing kabaddi together build the girls’ support networks, helping them to discuss such sensitive issues in confidence and building a culture of speaking out against discrimination and seeking help.
The strength of the project lies in PRADAN’s approach, which over the past decade has built up a strong platform for women’s leadership through economic empowerment, and developed close relations with the male leadership in communities. To attempt to transform gender relations without the support of men in a traditional patriarchal set-up would lead to community backlash and project failure. The project has also benefited from the carefully designed education modules that ICRW has developed and tested in Dholpur.
The project has not been without its challenges. Dealing with dress code has been a dilemma, in communities where women traditionally wear salwar kameez which are unsuitable for sport. Project staff have also been confronted with the challenge of caste. Finally, the project has used innovative techniques to engage with young men (e.g. card-games), but retaining them has proved difficult; in at least one village, girls stopped using the local sports field because of verbal abuse from boys. Such challenges are part of the process of redefining deep-rooted gender norms, with sport providing a safe space for communities to explore the tensions that exist and find new ways of understanding, protecting and promoting girls’ rights.
To support this process, ICRW’s strategy for PANKH draws from its experience in sport for development and peace elsewhere in India. In the longer term, ICRW and PRADAN are hoping to use the project to influence other agencies in Dholpur such as the health authorities and the kabaddi federation, to increase adolescent girls’ access to health services and sport.