Empowering internally displaced girls through sport
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a coach trains two teams of sportswomen
Sport can be a powerful platform to support the development of internally displaced women and girls and educate them about their rights.

As of December 2020, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria due to disasters is 143,000 and 2,730,000 due to conflict. Alongside the Boko Haram crisis, insecurity and natural disasters are part of the reasons for the displacement crisis in the country.

While both men and women are displaced, the negative repercussions and actual impacts of living in displacement affect women more than men. This is because women are prone to a lack of quality education, security, health and livelihood. They are also likely to face early marriages and childbirth, illiteracy, marginalization and high risks of gender-based violence. Women and girls living in displacement are in danger of experiencing higher levels of the pre-existing discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantages that women in society face.

The negative stigmatization towards IDPs is not unknown to society. This marginalization is a norm that prevents them from participating in social, economic, and recreational activities.

Sport is a neutral tool that promotes unity in all aspects of life regardless of race, gender, religion, or social class. It plays a vital role in unifying societies, breaking gender disparities and building bridges between diverse beliefs and cultures. It promotes social inclusion, physical and mental wellness, and societal development.

Over the years, sport has demonstrated the ability to propel the empowerment of women and girls. Sport for gender equality provides a space in which women can redefine concepts of femininity and masculinity, challenge stereotypes that label women as weak and inferior, and demonstrate their capabilities to their communities. 

Although individuals in the sport ecosystem are making significant efforts to advance gender equality by developing sports for women and girls, increasing women’s leadership, increasing support for resources in women’s sports and promoting women’s achievements, women still face barriers to participating in sports. For women and girls living in displacement, these barriers double the struggle.

Women and girls living in displacement have little to no education opportunities, due to poverty and gender imbalance. Learning is not limited only to the classroom. It is an all-around activity and sport can serve as an out-of-school educational experience, in terms of life skills, by teaching teamwork, leadership, integrity and decision making. Educating girls is vital for their growth and empowerment, and sport can be used to promote their development. Women and girls are also taught skills in different sports activities that aid them in building passion and developing potential lifelong careers.

Sport activities can serve as a safe space by providing a means of engagement for women and girls, steering them away from getting involved in situations that are harmful to them. Sport as a tool for inclusion allows women and girls living in displacement to participate in social and recreational activities that they lack opportunities for. By getting women to participate in male-dominated activities, men and boys can adopt a supportive and positive attitude towards the participation of women in activities seen by society as male-centered.

The route to effectively harnessing the power of sport as a tool for social change requires collective effort. It is not just about organizations, women empowerment bodies, or feminist groups – it is a movement that calls for all hands on deck.

The role of men in advancing women's participation in sport is a vital one. By educating them on the benefits of partnering with women, supporting women in male-centered fields, including sports, and standing up against any form of gender-based violence, boys and men living in displacement and otherwise can contribute to the empowerment of internally displaced women and girls.

Debunking social norms and gender stereotypes in their community is also another way to show support. Small steps, such as a father allowing his girl child to wear sport shorts and tops so that she can run around a field kicking a ball, is a step towards supporting the empowerment of women and girls through sport. A brother who teaches his sister that she can take control, rally her teammates and lead them to victory also takes a similar step.

FAME Foundation, through the PLAY it DREAM initiative, is using sport as a tool to educate girls, reduce the occurrences of child marriages and increase the participation of females in sports while improving their health and well-being. The initiative, officially launched in 2019, works toward SDGs 3, 4, 5 and 10.

The target persons are girls in vulnerable groups – IDPs and those in rural areas, who are prone to experience more dangers because of their lack of resources, education and awareness. The project uses sports activities to empower and mentor about 200 girls, as well as educate them on embodying male-centered roles. The curriculum-based initiative mentors internally displaced girls on quality education, which they usually lack due to poor living conditions, and access to school education. This includes leadership sessions, hygiene, self-awareness, life skills, empowerment skills and psycho-social support.

Through sporting activities and games, PLAY it DREAM it encourages girls’ participation in sports, thus promoting gender equality. It sensitizes girls on the dangers surrounding child marriage, promotes a healthy lifestyle and advocates for mental well-being, creating a platform in sport for girls to develop self-confidence and empower them for a brighter future.

Sport can change the lives of women and girls living in displacement. By providing support and opportunities for these women and girls, we can empower them through education, mentoring and social interaction, saving countless internally displaced women and girls from harm and guaranteeing them promising and bright futures.


Anna Mambula is the Programme Manager at FAME Foundation. FAME Foundation is a gender-based non-profit organization in Nigeria, established solely to solicit, encourage, and advance the social, emotional, and economic well-being of women and girls.

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.


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

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