Using rugby to promote gender equality
Using rugby to promote gender equality
With the Women’s Rugby World Cup about to kick off in Paris, sportanddev caught up with Richard Bennett, founder of the Bhubesi Pride Foundation, who explained the value of using rugby with girls to promote development in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why is rugby a good sport for promoting gender equality and empowering women?
Richard: Rugby is one of those unique sports which, in its basic form, can reach out to the masses. It's fun, fast, develops great hand-eye coordination, promotes excellent teamwork and creates leaders. In our sessions, we aim to ensure we coach with 50% boys and 50% girls.
Touch and tag rugby both share core benefits, such as setting the right body position when making a 'touch', 'tag' or tackle, running into space and offloading that try-making pass at the right time! Boys can play with girls and you can easily mix age groups as you are able to minimise the physical nature of the game - it essentially becomes a very attractive game for all.
Sometimes, if we're playing mixed teams, we'll value a girl's score (or 'try') higher than a boy's; that way players are encouraged to pass and work together, if they want to be on the winning team.
We also believe strongly that when empowering teachers and community leaders, it's crucial we work with as many women as we do men. That way the game will grow among girls as much as it will boys. Similarly if girls see their senior [female] teachers promoting rugby, they will be inspired to learn, play and even coach themselves.
sportanddev: How is Bhubesi Pride using rugby to do this?
Richard: Bhubesi Pride is sticking to rugby. Many people have approached me and asked me to start netball programmes. Much as I would love to, we know that our specialty is rugby and we have seen real progress over the last few years. Each year, we coach over 3,000 children - almost 50% are girls and they love it as much as the boys. And female teachers we train are keeping the rugby flame burning too!
sportanddev: Are there any challenges with using a sport which is traditionally perceived as “masculine”?
Richard: Just before I ran my first rugby coaching session in Dar es Salaam back in 2011, I asked the female head teacher, Idda, to prepare the pupils and bring them out to the pitch where I'd meet them. When I approached the playing surface, balls in one hand, cones in the other, I was met by a large group of boys, only! I turned to Idda and said, "where are the girls? It should be 50/50!" Shocked, she quickly re-arranged the numbers, and I think we broke some cultural barriers down that day. We've never had that situation since and we've seen excellent development of the game in Dar.
sportanddev: Are there any challenges with using rugby in countries which are not traditional rugby playing nations?
Richard: There were in the beginning. We were even criticised for not bringing football. More football in Africa? The truth is, African kids are made for rugby. Whether you're in a South African township, working with street kids in Tanzania or in a government school in Kenya, boys and girls display talent we're often in awe of. Often we only have a few days coaching kids in schools but come tournament day, they really do 'bring it' and many could probably run circles around our coaches! It's hugely inspiring, and it motivates us to keep working on developing and improving our programmes.
Richard Bennett is the founder of Bhubesi Pride Foundation. The charity operates a rolling recruitment process and they are currently looking for volunteers to join their 2015 expedition, whereby you can form part of the team that takes rugby through ten African countries, opting for 1 to 5 month durations.
You can apply here and watch their latest video on their 2014 project page here.