I’ve noticed in my time as Project Manager with GSW that the true purpose of our work here is often forgotten or misunderstood. Too many times we are approached on the street, our arms overflowing with sports equipment, and asked what it is we do. Our reply is simple, “We teach life skills to girls through sports.” The response is usually one of two things: “Girls don’t play sports,” or a confused blank stare followed by “Why not boys?”
Culture accounts for this confusion. Culture does not just include what we see on the surface, those simple things such as music, food, dance and religion. Culture is the deeply rooted values of a society that creates these gender and social roles that we encounter every day. And while these gender roles have improved significantly here in Cusco, they are still very prevalent, especially in rural areas. Girls are expected to stay home and do chores or look after siblings while boys are given the freedom to explore other opportunities.
These distinct gender roles were highlighted this week when we gave very brief presentations of our program to the parents at one of our more rural schools, Virgen Del Rosario. Walking into a room of seemingly tired and disinterested adults was challenging. We enthusiastically delivered our speeches and asked for questions, only to be met with blank stares. After about 15 seconds, a man slowly raised his hand and asked the age old question, “Why not boys?” We told him that we wanted to create a safe space for the girls to play, improve, gain confidence and be heard. He shook his head, half satisfied as the man next to him raised his hand, “I still don’t understand, what about the boys?”
While it is very frustrating, that is why we are here, to empower women through sports! We are here because of these cultural barriers. We run this program in Cusco because of the distinctly defined gender roles that society so obviously values. Whether our girls one day hope to become professional athletes, or they simply enjoy sports, they deserve to be given the opportunity to play and a safe space to do it in.