Unleashing Equality: When sport becomes a tool for women’s development in India
On the 26th of August, the world commemorates Women’s Equality Day, which marks the anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in the United States. This day not only holds significance in the United States but also resonates globally, highlighting the hard-fought achievements and ongoing struggles for gender parity worldwide.
In a country as diverse and culturally rich as India, the pursuit of women’s equality takes many forms and one such avenue gaining significant momentum is the realm of sport for development (S4D). Not only does S4D provide a platform for women to have access to sport in a safe and inclusive space, but also serves as a catalyst for promoting gender equality and empowerment.
The landscape of gender inequality In India
Imagine the Indian landscape - a place of diverse cultures, traditions, and aspirations. However, amidst this diversity, gender inequality casts a persistent shadow. Women often find themselves restricted in accessing education, healthcare, and economic growth opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, India ranks 143 out of 146 countries in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity, 107 for female education attainment, and comes in at the last rank at 146 for women's health and survival. Traditional gender norms and stereotypes further restrict their participation in the public sphere- including sport.
The paradigm shift: sport for development
Sport, often hailed as a universal language, possesses an innate ability to bridge divides, shatter stereotypes, and unite communities. Beyond the physical benefits, sport has the potential to transform lives and societies. This holds especially true in the context of women’s equality in India.
In a country grappling with gender-based discrimination, women's participation in sports acts as a catalyst for societal transformation. Through the provision of access to sports, women and girls get the opportunity to explore and showcase their potential in sports. This can significantly change how society perceives women and girls’ capacity to participate effectively. Families and communities, once skeptical about women's athletic pursuits, are now embracing and opening up to the idea of their daughters’ aspirations. This ripple effect is dismantling barriers that have long held women back.
S4D programs, in particular, are instrumental in empowering women and girls, as it provides them with an avenue for skill development, confidence enhancement as well as awareness building. This holistic approach recognizes that empowerment cannot thrive in isolation. When girls and women are equipped with education and life skills, they are better positioned to make informed life choices, pursue higher education, and ultimately challenge gender norms.
Another striking aspect of S4D initiatives is their potential to challenge the stereotype that sport is exclusively meant for men. These programs showcase women in fields traditionally considered “male-dominated”. The Naz Foundation, a pioneer organization in India, is a great example of how S4D initiatives empower women and girls. Through its program, Young People Initiative (YPI), and mixed gender tournament, One Nation Netball Cup (ONNC), Naz Foundation demonstrates the transformative power of sport in fostering gender equality and enabling girls to excel in domains that were once considered beyond their reach.
Fostering gender inclusivity and leadership through sport
In India, S4D initiatives have recognized the potential of sport to address these challenges head-on. Organizations and programs dedicated to promoting women’s empowerment through sport have made significant strides.
One such organization is Pro Sport Development (PSD), which focuses on using sport as a tool for the holistic development of children and young people. Through its mixed-gender programs, PSD is redefining gender dynamics within sport. By promoting collaborative participation among different genders, the organization breaks down the traditional barriers that segregate sporting activities.
PSD not only promotes inclusivity but also focuses on building awareness on gender and sensitizing participants, further enabling them to confront gender-based norms and stereotypes and promote gender equality.
One of PSD’s programs, Community Table Tennis (CTT), addresses issues of gender inequality through the use of table tennis. The program has been able to empower participants to resist gender-based discrimination and advocate for gender equality in their homes and communities. One of the female participants from the program shared how the CTT program helped her tackle gender-based discrimination:
“My mother never allowed me to go and play outside but I used to fight my way. When the table tennis tournament happened for the first time, I had to fight with my mother to take part in it, however, I could not win. When I finished as the runner-up in the second tournament, I was really happy and my mother was happy too. I want to thank PSD for providing us with this opportunity.”
In addition to enabling participants to challenge gender-based stereotypes and discrimination, the program has also contributed significantly to their overall development as another female participant of the CTT expressed her thoughts on gaining confidence:
“We have gained new beliefs. The talent that we have unearthed through this program has given us a lot of confidence, which will stay with us forever. It is good that I got to learn this sport as I never thought I could play such a sport.”
The CTT has been able to equip children and young people with important skills like decision-making, problem-solving, effective communication, strong self-esteem as well as gender sensitivity, which can further empower them to become future leaders with the ability to articulate their ideas confidently, work harmoniously in a team, challenge gender stereotypes, pursue diverse career paths, and advocate for a more equitable world. This holistic approach cultivates well-rounded individuals capable of contributing meaningfully to their communities and breaking down barriers.
Unfinished business and the way forward
While the scoreboard shows remarkable progress, challenges like cultural barriers, limited resources, and deep-rooted stereotypes in promoting women’s equality in sports still linger. To address these challenges through the use of sport, it is important to invest not only in closing the gaps in access and opportunities, but also in changing mindsets, increasing awareness, and redefining the roles of women in society. This means going beyond just addressing disparities and instead, focusing on initiatives that can reshape how women's contributions and capabilities are perceived and valued in our communities.
In the grand arena of gender inequality, where the odds are stacked against them, women are emerging as true champions. The fields, courts, and tracks are no longer spaces for just competitions, they are stages of empowerment, unity, and change. As the final whistle is yet to be blown, one thing is clear: S4D initiatives in India are playing for the win, but their victory echoes far beyond the fields.