Creating space: Girls and women in sport
On 7 October 2020, a webinar organised by Welcome to Football discussed how refugee women and girls can be incorporated into their host societies using sports. Welcome to Football is a project initiated by the German Kids and Youth Foundation, the Federal Government Commissioner of Migration, Refugees and Integration, and the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL). The project started in 2015, and is scheduled to wrap up by next year. The project is based on the idea of creating partnerships between professional football clubs, amateur football clubs and third parties. It aims to achieve the social inclusion of refugees and migrants through sport.
Creating space: Girls and women in sport
Speakers on the panel were individuals working on projects which cater specifically for refugee women and girls, to carve a space for them to play football recreationally in their host countries. Speakers included Victoria Schwenzer (Camino Research Institute/SPIN Project), Mirabay Lotz (Welcome to Football Dortmund), Sabera Khademe (participant, Welcome to Football Dortmund), Sarah Jones (Leicester City in the Community, Football Welcomes) and Tasneem Tawil (Football Welcomes – Women’s Football Officer at Amnesty International UK).
The panel included not just practitioners but also refugee women who had been participants in these programmes. This allowed those of us sitting in on the webinar to gain perspectives on the experiences of refugee and migrant women and girls first-hand, to understand how such programmes can have a lasting and impactful effect on them.
Within this context, the webinar focused on the scope for refugee women and girls in sports in their host countries, and how the sporting world needs to carve out space specifically for refugee women and girls. The webinar was interactive and included many breakout sessions where smaller groups could discuss and brainstorm ideas on how to successfully implement such projects.
Migrant and refugee women and girls
Women and girls face a double disadvantage once they migrate – they are disadvantaged both because of their background and because of their gender. Hence, not only do they have to face racism in their host country, they also continue to deal with sexism. Further, sport is categorised across cultures in a very male way. In Europe, sport remains very male and white, and migrants are often underrepresented.
Migrant women also face many other barriers to participating in sport programmes. Beyond social marginalisation and discrimination, there are also the issues of high costs, transport, safety, closed and male dominated club structures, the focus on performance in sport and the lack of specific targeting of migrant women and girls. In such a context, how can migrant and refugee women and girls gain exposure to sports?
Creating a safe space
Participants on the webinar discussed the various ways in which a sporting programme can be successfully implemented. The top requirement is to create a safe space for the women and girls, where they can feel comfortable as they explore a new society and a new sport. Further, for younger girls, role models can be very effective.
Webinar participants also noted that the infrastructural barriers that prevent women from participating in the programme should be reduced – hence, the programme should be easily accessible by public transport. Financial barriers must also be considered. Some ways in which this can be attained is by making programmes free or affordable, and providing childcare services on site.
Successful strategies have included reaching the target audience through role models, parents, partnerships and networks. Club sports also need to be made more accessible overall, to ensure that migrant and refugee women and girls are also able to participate in them.
Some programmes have also found that offering a multi-sport approach is helpful. This allows women to choose the sport and activities that they prefer. Offering other classes, online trainings and counselling sessions along with the sporting programme has also made these programmes successful.
Many on the webinar also suggested that a participatory approach to programme design is best – the women and girls should have decision-making abilities to decide what they want out of the programme. This gives them ownership over the programme and their own futures.