Empowering young girls: The decision makers of Atoot
Each day, girls in rural southern Nepal rise before the sun, undertaking a multitude of responsibilities: cleaning the house, preparing family meals, washing utensils, tending to cattle, and caring for younger siblings. These young individuals are confined by their household duties and often lack awareness of their fundamental rights. Deprived of a voice in their life decisions, they are expected to conform to societal norms, becoming susceptible to early marriage and gender-based violence. This stark reality paints a challenging picture of life for girls in villages in rural southern Nepal.
Backbreaking housework never ends for Atoot girls and the women in their communities. Photo: Thibault Gregoire
Now what happens when these girls are provided with unprecedented opportunities? They undergo remarkable transformation. They develop awareness, confidence, and leadership skills, enabling them to confront the injustices they face and giving them the agency to use their voices for their own benefit.
Atoot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Sport for Development, has played a pivotal role in bringing about this positive change. Through the avenues of football, educational classes, life skills workshops, and community engagement, Atoot is educating and empowering young girls with a focus on long-term capacity building and holistic development. This approach goes beyond immediate challenges, aiming to create a lasting impact on the lives of these girls, fostering a sense of empowerment and equipping them for a brighter future.
Atoot is committed to a fully participatory and holistic approach to organizational leadership and decision-making. In line with this philosophy, young girls actively contribute to shaping the programmatic aspects of Atoot. They play a pivotal role in decision-making processes, determining the content of their educational classes and expressing preferences for new soccer skills they wish to learn.
The life skills workshop topics are chosen based on the personal, cultural, and social issues affecting the girls, with the girls themselves making these decisions. Discussions with the girls also influence the timing of programming, holidays, picnics, and educational tours. Atoot recognizes the immense value of the perspectives, ideas, views, and opinions of these young girls, giving them an influential role in deciding various aspects such as content, program development, timing, and holiday schedules.
This participatory approach not only fosters a sense of ownership among the girls regarding the program but also empowers them to use their voices effectively. Atoot's commitment to involving the girls in decision-making reflects a dedication to creating an inclusive and empowering environment for their holistic development.
Atoot girls acting out an original drama they conceptualized, scripted and performed regarding child marriage.
Another crucial facet of our participatory approach involves actively engaging with the community. Atoot consistently seeks the views and opinions of community members when making decisions, fostering trust and belief in our work. Notably, the community demonstrated significant support when hundreds of Atoot girls' parents, guardians, and community stakeholders took time from their busy schedules to witness the girls perform an original drama on communal environmental sanitation.
The community's appreciation and trust in Atoot's work have created a foundation where they understand that the actions and expressions of the girls are for the mutual benefit of the community and the individuals involved. This trust has made the community receptive to the advocacy efforts led by the girls. Empowering girls, community members, and stakeholders with decision-making power in our
programmatic aspects marks a significant step toward gender equality and the pursuit of long-term sustainable changes. Atoot's commitment to inclusivity and collaboration is laying the groundwork for meaningful and lasting impact in the community.
In my role as a program officer at Atoot, I've had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable transformation of these young girls into confident, vocal individuals who actively exercise their rights through our sports and adaptive education initiatives. These girls make a conscious effort to participate, displaying enthusiasm for both play and learning. To join the program, they choose to rise earlier, ensuring they complete cooking and cleaning tasks beforehand. Recognizing their domestic responsibilities, they've ingeniously found alternative ways to attend, emphasizing their commitment to self-empowerment. This proactive step reflects their agency and determination to embrace empowerment through Atoot's programs.
Alisha facilitating an arts and craft English class. Photo: Thibault Gregoire
Similarly, these girls have approached us with a request for very short haircuts, a significant decision they autonomously made, showcasing their exercise of freedom and control over their own bodies. In collaboration with their families, they've expressed the need for shorts, emphasizing their desire for comfort while playing football. Their explicit statements about wanting education and independence underline their commitment to demonstrating the equality of girls and boys. These instances vividly illustrate how these girls have not only developed the ability to make independent decisions but also actively act upon them, asserting their agency and autonomy.
These girls, by exercising their right to make independent decisions and vocalizing their opinions, are courageously challenging prevailing societal norms. Their actions are instrumental in fostering an environment of empowerment within their communities.
Through participatory programming and decision-making, these young girls are not only shaping their own promising futures but also contributing to the broader transformation of societal attitudes and expectations. Their determination and agency serve as powerful catalysts for positive change, creating a ripple effect that extends beyond their individual experiences.
Atoot girls are changing the social narrative, one kick at a time. Photo: Robin Tutenges
About the author
Alisha Shrestha is a Programme Officer at Atoot, a Sport for Development, Football for Good, grassroots non profit in rural south Nepal. She is a coach, educator, leader and mentor to hundreds of marginalized girls and their communities. She can be reached at [email protected].
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