You are here

Gender socialization in sports: The participation of female refugees in football for development programs

Gender socialization in sports: The participation of female refugees in football for development programs

Publication type



Aarhus Univeristy



This MA thesis looks into how football for development programs can be built to be more inclusive towards refugee women and girls to further empower them.

Since the sudden rise in refugees seeking asylum in Europe, many social inclusion programs were established. Well-known European professional football clubs started implementing football-based social inclusion programs, such as the Welcome Through Football program. Sport for Development programs promote and foster human security of refugees and address social inequalities such as racial injustice and gender inequality. However, most of the participants in Football for Development programs are male. Many refugee women and girls are excluded or restricted from participating. This thesis analyzes and discusses the role of gender in the socialization and participation experience of female refugees in Football for Development programs. The research provides an in-depth and critical analysis of gender socialization in sports and how 'sport as a vehicle for change' impacts women and girls differently than men and boys. Qualitative and quantitative data has been collected in collaboration with seven professional European football clubs implementing football-based programming for refugees and one all-female refugee team from Greece.

The research analyzes and discusses three different pillars, socialization to football, socialization in football and socialization through football. The first section, socialization to football, addresses challenges and successes in closing the gender gap. Challenges include the refugee demographic, the female 'disinterest' in football, and sociocultural gender norms. Successful strategies to increase the number of women and girls are; creating an inclusive environment, shifting the focus from competitive to non-competitive, setting up parallel female-only structures and using female coaches and role models. The second section, socialization in football, focuses on the impact of gender socialization among children, teenagers and adolescents. In all three age categories, the values ascribed to masculinity and femininity restrict the female participants.

The research finds that the mixed-gender sessions increase the acceptance towards women and girls playing football and break down stereotypes at a young age. However, the older participants get, the more gender socialization negatively impacts the participation of women and girls. Furthermore, at an adolescent age, participants do not challenge feminine stereotypes. Instead, women integrate 'feminine' traits into 'masculine' traits that are required to play football. The final section addresses socialization through sport and the overall interaction between socio-cultural gender norms and the participation of refugee women and girls. The participation of refugee women and girls in football promotes female empowerment and gender equality through challenging traditional socio-cultural gender norms and stereotypes. The research concludes that gender is a critical aspect in the participation of female refugees and restricts their participation in each socialization pillar. Therefore, Football for Development programs for refugees must be gender-sensitive and acknowledge the additional challenges that refugee women face in participating in atypical gender sports, aim for a fifty-fifty gender balance, or set up female structures parallel to existing programming.


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.



Jellina Keulen


Tuesday, November 9, 2021 - 06:36

E-Newsletter subscribe