Girl Power in Play Symposium

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Against the backdrop of FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, GirlSportWorks had the opportunity to attend a two-day Girl Power in Play symposium in Ottawa. Focused on global issues of girls’ right to play sport and related topics within the fields of health, education, nutrition, life skills, and gender norms, it was a truly impressive and inspiring event promoting girls in sport as a crucial component to good health, greater agency, and overall wellbeing.

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GirlSportWorks joined decision makers, sports stars, high-level Canadian government officials, influencers, and girls and women involved in sports, including other like-minded organizations:

  • BoxGirls Kenya – helping young women transform themselves and their communities through boxing (Kenya)
  • Goals for Girls – using soccer to teach young women life skills for change in their own lives and in their communities (Washington, D.C.)
  • Grassroots Soccer – uses soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize young people to stop the spread of HIV (South Africa/Global)
  • Guerreiras Project – using futebol as a tool to promote gender justice and creative more equitable, sustainable ways of being (Brazil)
  • Skateistan – using skateboarding as a tool to empower youth, to create new opportunities and the potential for change (Afghanistan/Global)
  • Soccer Without Borders – using soccer for positive change, providing under-served youth a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion and personal success (USA/Global)
  • Street Football World – changing the world through football by sharing knowledge, creating partnerships, and raising awareness (Germany/Global)
  • Up2UsSports – improving America’s youth through sport (USA)
  • Women Win – equipping adolescent girls to exercise their rights through sport (USA/Global)
  • Yuwa – combatting child marriage and human trafficking through team sport and education (India)

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Although all the Symposium attendees were accomplished women, if you’re looking for inspiration (in your career — or maybe just to get out and exercise today), I highly recommend reading this profile of Fatuma Adan, a Muslim Kenyan who overcame many barriers to receive a law degree and become the Founder and Director of Horn of Africa Development Initiative, a girls’ sports and education organization. I also recommend reading this interview with Solmaz Sharif, UN Correspondent at Voice of America Persian, Deputy Director of Non-Stop Media, and Founder of Shirzanan Global, Iranian women’s first sports magazine.

In addition to these powerful stories, several ideas that came up through sessions and individual conversations have stuck with me since I came home:

  • There was talk in the margins about FIFA failings, such as lack of female leadership in FIFA (just 3 out of 209 FIFA member countries are women, including Moya Dodd, Girl Power in Play attendee) and gender inequality in the Women’s World Cup, such as playing on turf and being subjected to gender testing.
  • Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, kept the conversations honest, reminding us of FIFA’s other ongoing problems, updating us about Iran’s refusal to let women attend volleyball games, and spelling out the links between human rights, governance, and global sports.
  • Although anecdotally we know that sports are good for girls, there’s a push to create supporting evidence. Key take-aways in this discussion were remembering to ask (1) Evidence for whom?, (2) Evidence for what?, and (3) making sure to document social and structural conditions.
  • Women Win has a thoughtful Digital Storytelling Project, a workshop-based methodology for young women to gain storytelling and multimedia skills while sharing the impact of sport on their lives. Check out the stories, add your own, and learn how to host a workshop.
  • GirlSportWorks can do a better job connecting to other individuals and organizations in the girls and sports field, in Cusco and around the world.

The sessions culminated in an ambitious Call to Action for governments and donors to increase funding and support for girl-oriented sport programs and to generate research on the impact sport programs have on girls, particularly regarding their health. We signed on and hope you will find creative ways to support girls and sports, too!

– Carrie Golden, Co-Director