This sub-section provides general guidelines, based on experiences from various interventions, on promoting gender equity through sport.

Claiming space

The provision of designated spaces for women’s and girls’ sport activities can have practical benefits but also a symbolic character, especially if these areas are public. In general, access to community areas is primarily granted to men and boys.

In some cases, should women and girls frequent these community spaces, they are usually allowed to do so under specific conditions (e.g. while being accompanied by a male family member). Experience shows that by women and girls claiming public space, the community may become slowly accustomed to seeing women and girls sharing public space with men and boys.

The Course Féminine, held every year on the streets of Casablanca, Morocco, is an example of how women and girls claim public space to participate in sport. Only women and girls are permitted to participate in the race that goes through the city of Casablanca.

Access to resources, structures and leadership

Besides infrastructure, sports programmes for women and girls have shown to require organisational structure as well. Sports programmes that assure women and girls active board membership in leading positions, equity, financial means, participation in decision-making and strategic planning are likely to be more successful in producing lasting change in the self-perception and self-confidence of female participants in such programmes.

Choice of sport

Successful sport programmes for women and girls have shown to have paid careful attention to categories of sports, such as: sport vs. games; contact vs. low-contact vs. non-contact sports; mixed vs. single-sex sports activities; team vs. double vs. single sports; etc.

Careful consideration of these aspects can help to establish female sports participation and its integration into everyday life. Research conducted on perceptions of sport in e.g. the US has shown that basketball is seen as a ‘rough’ sport, while similar research in Senegal shows that basketball is considered a ‘feminine’ sport, indicating that an understanding of the community’s perception of different sports is required.

Traditional games and competition

Traditional games have shown to be useful in promoting gender equity, an approach which does not focus heavily on mainstream sport. This can help to avoid potential issues with promoting competitive sports. But some indigenous games and activities derive from e.g. male-dominated hunting or war practices and therefore might be counterproductive in reaching gender equity objectives, reinforcing existing patriarchal structures and gender norms.

As such, experience shows that modifying existing games, changing certain rules and focusing on participation and fun rather than on competition and performance, is more effective in achieving an inclusive approach to promoting gender equity.

Didactical considerations

In many cases, sport activities have shown to act as an ideal platform on which to address gender roles among children and adults. This is largely due to the ways in which sports activities are taught. For example, a significant learning experience can derive from witnessing a female referee at a sports tournament or training with a female coach.

The role of females in such positions has shown to relay an implicit message that women do possess knowledge and leadership skills, and are also capable and familiar with a male-dominated field. Research on such programmes has shown that male participants and stakeholders tend to experience an ‘eye-opening effect’ when witnessing and learning from female experts in sport.

Providing incentives

Sports programmes in developing countries are usually run by sport coaches who work on a voluntary basis. But sports projects have shown to require specialised and trained staff in order to reach the desired outcomes.

As such, in order to get capable people to become actively involved in girls’ and women’s sport, research shows that added incentives must be provided (such as: remuneration, transferable skills, equipment, further education, media exposure, travel opportunities or other resources) to make the programme sustainable.

Holistic approach

Sports programmes that have proven most effective thus far in promoting gender equity are those that are well-integrated into the community and context in which the programme takes place.

Experience has shown that programmes implemented with resistance from the community are less likely to continue activities once the programme comes to an end. The programmes that have used available input, knowledge and resources from the community tend to be more effective in maintaining longer-term impact of the initiative.

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