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Time for sport for development to tackle gender-based violence

Boys in Indonesia holding up the word 'respect' written on their hand
Copyrights: Pledge United (Photo)

Time for sport for development to tackle gender-based violence

Using sport to educate boys about true masculinity, violence prevention and the rights of women.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is calling for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls and which is linked to lockdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sport for development community faces unprecedented challenges at every level. Our future is uncertain and we will not be sheltered from the impending global economic downturn.  However, every crisis brings opportunity, and every crisis brings clarity of vision and focus.

The sport for development movement now has the opportunity to  focus our energies and resources on areas where we can make the greatest impact. For Inspire, the organisation I have led for the past ten years, our area of focus is teenage boys’ attitudes to gender-based violence through football-based programmes.

Both ESPN and Sport England in the US and the UK have conducted surveys that show adolescent boys play more sport than any other demographic; that is why sport is such a powerful way to influence the values and behaviour of young people. Inspire has championed and helped women’s football grow within Indonesia, a country which traditionally sees  football as a ‘man’s game.’ However, as much as we try and challenge and change the current status quo, we are aware that teenage boys far outnumber girls when it comes to playing sport. We also know that 50% of first-time offenders of gender based violence within Asia are teenage boys. If we want to live in societies that are truly fair and safe for all, then this should be a far greater focus for the sport for development movement.

Having lived in Indonesia for the last 13 years I see inequality on a daily basis. In 2016, when the UN conducted a study into gender-based violence within Asia, our eyes were opened. Half of men admitted to using violence towards women and 26% admitted to raping someone at least once in their lifetime. As shocking as these numbers are, we understand the issue is not confined to Asia but is a global problem. The #MeToo movement brought this to light a few years ago, however, due to lockdown measures we have seen increases in the levels of domestic abuse the world over.

The rise in abuse is not caused by the lockdown but by men, men whose whole value system and outlook is wrong. In fact when the UN asked men what was the reason why they raped a woman, over 50% said either for entertainment or due to their entitlement.

I passionately believe in the power of sport. The values that I have as a man, leader, husband, and father are, to a large extent, the values I learnt on the sports field. I applaud Chelsea in supporting Refuge within the UK; but as much as we need to help women who are being abused, we also need to focus our attention on preventing abuse from happening by educating boys about true masculinity, violence prevention, and rights of women. I know no better way of doing this than through sport.

As Martin Luther King said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Is it not time for men to stand up to this injustice of this global issue?

My hope as we come out the other side of this COVID-19 crisis, is that the sport for development movement will see tackling this issue as not only as an opportunity for us, but ultimately as a main priority. I hope that we will step up to the responsibility of teaching the largest demographic that plays sport about how we can live in peaceful and safe societies not just for men, but for all.

Jon Hamilton is the founder of Inspire Football Foundation, a UK charity supporting the work of Inspire. Inspire pioneered the programme Pledge United, an 8 week programme for teenage boys that raises awareness about gender based violence, and impacts young people in Indonesia and throughout Asia. Pledge United is supported by the KNVB and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Jakarta.

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Jon Hamilton

Published

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 11:49