Empowering displaced women and girls in Northeast Nigeria
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collage of images of nigerian women playing sports and games
Though socio-cultural norms often prevent the participation of displaced women and girls in sport programs, starting with local games and then building up capacity can be a strategy to move forward.

The lingering conflict in Northeast Nigeria has not only resulted in devastating impact on health, food security, nutrition, and livelihood, but has also displaced many from their communities. The deepening humanitarian conflict has led to a widespread displacement of persons, a majority being women and children who are heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced across the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

Such displacements, coupled with factors such as social exclusion, family separation, unemployment, and a loss of identity, can hinder the development and wellbeing of women and children. It is therefore important that displaced women and children are empowered and resilient, in order to support their wellbeing.

Street Child of Nigeria (SCoN) started responding to the situation of displaced persons in Northeast Nigeria in 2016 through implementation of education in emergency projects and protection services. The organization aims to provide safe environments for displaced boys and girls within their homes and communities. Integrated in the implementation of these education and protection services is the provision of safe learning spaces, along with structured sporting activities as part of our Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) initiative.

Special benefits for women and girls

SCoN recognizes sport as an outlet for enjoyment, learning as well as competition, and its ability to support the holistic growth of youth. Sport has particularly been beneficial for women and girls, by supporting their development. Some recognized benefits for girls and women include:

  1. Developing a positive and healthy body image
  2. Strengthened self-esteem, confidence, and pride
  3. Improved mental health and a reduction in symptoms of stress and depression
  4. Building leadership and teamwork skills
  5. Increased happiness levels
  6. Improved physical health

Setbacks in women’s participation in sport

Despite the benefits offered by sport, women’s participation in sports has suffered huge setbacks in Northeast Nigeria due to several challenges, including:

  • Socio-cultural and religious barriers: Patriarchal notions and conservative mindsets of the community play a significant role in restricting women’s and girls’ participation in sports
  • Limited mobility: The deep-rooted notions that confine women to the domestic spheres often limit their mobility, which further makes it difficult for them to participate in sport and other activities in public spaces
  • Unequal opportunities: Even if women are able to make it out to play sport, a lack of equal opportunities obstructs their growth in the field

Strategies to grow

One of our strategies to improve women’s participation in sport focuses on advocating for their rights and building sensitivity among different stakeholders like youth leaders, religious institutions and the women themselves. We build this sensitivity by increasing their knowledge on the importance of sport, delivered through our information school and protection activities.

Along with sensitization, community stakeholders are also trained on the basic concepts of child protection, child safeguarding, gender-based violence and sexual violence. This helps them understand the safety plan we have in place and ensure our activities do not harm participating children. In our trainings, we also emphasize on the significance of women’s participation in sport.

Another effective strategy is training of trainers (ToT), wherein we encourage the recruitment of women, to ensure we have more female mentors and coaches. The facilitators are trained on our structured program of games and play, and on best practices of our organization, including important policies like child safeguarding.

We also employ the use of a gender-specific sport programming, ensuring that displaced women and girls have an exclusive and safe space for their sport activities. This has led to increased numbers of girls and women competing in sports such as sack race, egg race, bottle race, skipping and strategy games like ludo.

We noted that by using local sports and games that women and girls were more familiar with, such as “Charapke” and “Dara,” we found that more women and girls were likely to participate. In such communities, foreign games do not appeal to the local population, and the familiarity of the games allowed more women and girls to participate. These games also allow those women and girls that wear a hijab to participate with their headscarf on, boosting the acceptance of sport within the communities. Upon increased participation, we introduced other sports, such as volleyball, as participants and the larger community were more accepting of the overall participation of women and girls in the program.

SCoN has been actively involved in organizing events that promote participation of women and girls in sport. Recently, a series of activities was facilitated to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child. It was held in collaboration with two local partners – Restoration of Hope Initiative (ROHI) and Royal Hope Heritage Foundation (RHHF). We engaged with girls at Yelwa Primary School Mubi, in the state of Admawa, under the auspice of our European Union-German Cooperation funded project. During the activity, girls and women competed in sack races, blindfold games, poetry recitation, song presentations, drama, and local games. A competition was also organized between boys and girls, to promote mixed-gender interactions. The activities were well received by the school authorities, the school board, community leaders and parents of the participating children.

Moving forward, it is hoped that the reach of SCoN’s sport-based interventions is strengthened, with an increase in women’s and girls’ participation at national and international levels.


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.


Does not apply
Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender equality
10 – Reduced inequalities
Target Group
Girls and women
Displaced people

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