Round one: Consider broader social trends

Round one: Consider broader social trends

Holly Thorpe argues sport is making a particularly valuable contribution to advancing gender equality and improving women's health.

How has the S&D community contributed to the MDGs?

The S&D community is making a valuable contribution towards some of the eight United Nations MDGs, particularly promoting gender equality and empowering women, progress on women’s and children’s health, and combating malaria and other diseases. In my research, I have been particularly interested in the efforts of action sport-related organisations, and I am seeing lots of great initiatives being developed by courageous, creative and passionate individuals and groups in an array of contexts around the world.

Based on my research, I would suggest that their efforts are going a long way towards helping to realise some of the MDGs in local settings. For example, since its establishment in the malaria-ridden Mentawai Islands in 2000, Surf Aid International (SAI) has grown to consist of an array of projects specifically connected to the MDGs, including mother and child health, Malaria-Free Mentawai, community-based health, and emergency preparedness and response programmes.

"More research is needed"

Beyond action sports, Women Win is a wonderful organisation working to "equip adolescent girls to exercise their rights through sport" via programmes addressing gender-based violence, economic empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health. A recent article by Hancock, Lyras and Ha, published in the first issue of the Journal of Sport for Development further reveals progress in the S&D community toward the achievement of the MDG of gender equality. The authors identified 440 programmes for girls and women around the world, and noted that 271 of these have been established since 2001. Despite an abundance of policies supporting women’s development, they note that more research is needed to more fully understand how these organisations are contributing to girls and women’s growth and development.

I agree wholeheartedly with their recommendation for further research in this area, and would go further to suggest that as well as research that quantitatively "measures" the effectiveness of such programmes, more socio-cultural research is also needed that considers both the unique local conditions within which such organisations operate, as well as the broader national and international social, cultural, political and economic contexts.

"I remain a strong advocate"

A few weeks ago, Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme since 2009, visited my university. She spoke passionately about the progress and challenges of realising the MDGs in volatile and unstable contexts around the world. As well as offering intimate insights into the unique struggles within particular countries, she presented a global perspective on the difficulties of creating substantive and sustainable change. I was somewhat disappointed that Clark did not mention the potential of sport and physical activity in achieving at least some of the MDGs. Nonetheless, I remain a strong advocate of the potential of culturally-sensitive and well-organised sport and physical activity programmes in creating valuable change in local contexts.

Not dissimilar from Clark, however, I see many challenges for those seeking to develop real change via long-term SDP programmes in regions of the world where war, political-upheaval and poverty, are a constant threat, or worse, an ongoing reality. Moreover, I acknowledge the difficulties for SDP organisations seeking to create sustainable programmes, but who are limited by the short-term funding opportunities offered by (some) governments and transnational corporations in a highly volatile global economy. We need to work within local communities, but we also need to look up and outwards, and consider the broader social-trends that are enabling and limiting our potential to realise the MDGs.

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[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]

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