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Understanding and adapting to local contexts

Understanding and adapting to local contexts

This sub-section provides suggestions to bear in mind when attempting to understand local contexts and for appropriately adapting gender interventions through sport to local situations.

Socio-economic considerations

In many of today’s developing countries, everyday tasks to meet basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) require most time, leaving few to think of the perceived ‘luxury’ of recreational activities. In most cases, work conducted by women and girls in the home as providers of food and carers of the family is not considered as productive because it is not a directly income-generating activity, which implies the assumption that females may not require recreational or free time as much as men. In such contexts, it is important to determine the extent to which women and girls can access time and resources to participate in sport.

In developing countries, lack of time and division of labour between men and women may prevent women and girls from participating in social activities outside the home, including sport. At the beginning of the 20th century in Western Europe, most female sports were exclusive to the wealthier, upper class groups who had time to spare.

Socio-cultural issues

The socio-cultural context of established gender norms must be considered when conducting sport programmes that aim to address gender norms. It may be considered a provocation for women and girls in some contexts, to be seen in public, wearing sports attire that may not cover all parts of the body. Not behaving according to established gender norms determined by socio-cultural influences, can have significant negative consequences for those who deviate from these norms.

Safety concerns

Sport and physical activity deals primarily with the body and “physicality”. Adults or older children may hold a position of power in relation to their younger counterparts, especially when they are in the role of a coach or trainer. In this sense, children and young people are in a position of vulnerability. Codes of conduct for coaches and appropriate reporting systems are necessary to avoid incidents of possible abuse or exploitation. 

The lack of appropriate facilities (e.g. with changing rooms, water and sanitation facilities, etc.) and/or sports equipment can deter women and girls from participating in sport activities. The risk of injury, especially towards women and girls, can be particularly restrictive.

Material, infrastructural and technical issues

Evidence from a sports programme in Bam, Iran shows that girls and women could only participate in sports and physical activity indoors, protected from public view. During the summer, activities were cancelled because it was not possible to open windows and doors while the female participants were playing. 

Experience shows that facilities that are close to residential areas, with appropriate lighting are more likely to have greater participation of women and girls. Activities should also be scheduled at appropriate times, e.g. before dusk. 

Ideals of masculinity and femininity

Sport is often perceived to express heterosexuality and male excellence. Experience shows that in most contexts, women who would like to be successful in sport competition have to demonstrate some ‘typically male’ attributes (such as: ambition, self-confidence, aggressiveness and power). Girls and women who ‘trespass’ on these socially and culturally defined boundaries, are seen to challenge and perhaps transform well-protected gender norms.

Lack of female role models

Research has shown that most girls learn ‘culturally-appropriate styles of movement’ by imitating their older female counterparts. But communicating the achievements of those exceptional women to others remains a challenge. 

For example, media coverage of sports remains biased towards male sport, with comparatively less attention paid to the accomplishments of female athletes. Practical efforts to focus attention on the triumphs of women and girls in sport have shown to help other women and girls perceive possibilities for developing themselves.

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