Creating opportunities through sport in Kakuma
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Cultural gender barriers can prevent girls and women from participating in sport for development activities, but a strong commitment to gender equality and purposeful programming can help overcome them.

The following article gives an insight into our experiences with Sport for Development (S4D) at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, through a project implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the Germany Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Currently, 196,666 refugees from neighboring countries, including South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Somalia, are living in the camp, with around 47% of this population being women and girls. Not only are they afraid of violence, hunger and disease, but they are also exposed to gender-based violence in refugee camps. In order to protect young girls, S4D measures teach them the skills with which they can create a self-determined future.

Sport enables girls from different cultural backgrounds to collaborate towards a common goal – gaining self-confidence and breaking stereotypes. In the Kakuma Divas League, organized by UNHCR and Lutheran World Federation (LWF), 10 teams with girls from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds participate together.

S4D sessions offer an opportunity for girls to share issues and challenges they face in a safe and open environment. These discussions often provide better and practical solutions to their challenges.

Besides that, there are now many more opportunities in using sport with displaced women and girls in the region. This is due to an increased number of stakeholders that are keen to improve participation of women and girls in sports. A sports ground is planned within the women’s space of the Kalobeyei Settlement Public Space to increase participation of women and girls in sports activities.

Nevertheless, it is not easy for girls to participate in sport and S4D sessions. Often, participation in sports activities conflicts with cultural or religious beliefs. Reduced access to sports equipment and socio-economic opportunities, as well as harsh environmental conditions like high temperatures and unsafe playgrounds, make it harder for them to participate. To emphasise the importance of girls’ participation in sports trainings, our S4D programme in Kakuma targets 50% women and girls in the activities. Partners are advised to establish and implement a similar quota in their activities as well.

In addition, over 70 female coaches have been trained in S4D through GIZ’s activities. These coaches have learned the S4D methodology and also know how to deal with cultural and religious beliefs. S4D coaches like Habiba Ramadhan have held sessions with parents to discuss the benefits of sports and S4D to girls and encourage them to allow girls to participate. This includes an agreement with the parents on suitable sportswear for Muslim girls.

Part of the interventions is also to give the parents and guardians assurance that the girls would be safe whenever they participate in sports activities, which is guaranteed by the coaches. Besides that, youth centres and in schools in the Kakuma refugee camp provide equipment to both boys and girls. Furthermore, there are S4D clubs in schools, like at Morning Star Primary School, which has a diverse membership, including girls.

The S4D measures follow a holistic approach, as it is essential to also include men and boys to tackle existing cultural and gender barriers. Specific awareness-raising campaigns such as the S4D trainings and sessions and media raise awareness among men and boys to break down barriers that prevent girls from participating in sport. The mixed-gender teams at our sporting events in Kakuma reduce prejudice against women and girls.

Through the S4D measures, girls and women are being encouraged to break down existing stereotypes and thus create more opportunities for their personal development.


Frankline Olukohe is Kenyan and works for the GIZ Regional Project Sport for Development in Africa. He is based in Kakuma and works closely with partner organisations and target groups in S4D activities. Vanessa Maith is German and is completing her internship in the GIZ sector project Sport for Development and supports in areas of public relations and international partnerships.

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.


South Sudan
Congo - Kinshasa
All sports
Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender equality
10 – Reduced inequalities
Target Group
Girls and women
Displaced people

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