Thinking differently about all three
In 2009, I met a girl named Becky Nazi in London at the Beyond Sport Summit (an annual global gathering run by the organisation I work for that brings together influencers and innovators from all over the world to discuss the power of sport in communities). She had never been out of Kenya and worked for an organisation called 'Moving the Goalposts', which organises football leagues and teams for the local girls there, and provides health education services. Just 24 years old, I was awestruck by her eloquence, her grace, her insight, her passion. She was inspirational to the hundreds of other people at the conference - who, amongst many other prestigious organisations, represented the UN, the IOC, the US and UK governments. When I think of 'Women of the Future', I think of girls like Becky.
I'm honoured and excited to be nominated for the Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell, in the 'Community Champions' category for the work I do at Beyond Sport - an organisation that promotes, funds, and supports the use of sport as a tool for social change in communities around the world. But it's also a chance to shine a spotlight on some of the most interesting work Beyond Sport specifically supports - those who are actually using sport as a way to truly change girls' and women's lives.
When we think of 'women and sport' - in the empowerment sense - many of us think of participation: how can we get more girls and women playing sport, utilising sport, using it as an opportunity to succeed? Gender equality in sport is important - that's a fact - and valiant efforts are going towards getting women's sport more coverage, more attention, and securing more resources towards providing opportunities for girls and young women to get access to sport.
But let's dive deeper. With sport not at the heart of the issue, but as a tool for change. A catalyst for empowerment and equality. In the social change sector, and the global sports industry, these are some of the programmes and initiatives who should be recognised when it comes to Women of the Future:
Moving the Goalposts - Kenya
In 2012, 80% of the girls in the village of Kilifi said that they didn't think they had a right to use contraceptives, while more than 50% said that they were not allowed to use them. In this region, girls are twice as likely to become infected with HIV as boys. Through organised football matches, peer-led sessions and social enterprise ventures, Moving The Goalposts engages with girls 10 to 25 years old, who are marginalised by social, economic and academic limitations, in football teams. The girls are responsible for organising and managing all sports matches, tournaments and leagues; they train fellow girls in coaching, refereeing and on first aid; and they lead peer education and counselling sessions. The older girls act as mentors, providing the younger with information that will help them to make informed decisions. A self-empowering initiative amongst a community of women, Moving the Goalposts is an inspiring example of how sport can be the tool, the connector, and ultimately, a pathway to life-changing education.
Skateistan - Afghanistan
The absolute novelty of skateboarding in Afghanistan means there are no existing cultural norms preventing girls from participating. At Skateistan in Kabul, girls come to skate, and then they are encouraged to join education courses and community projects. Since Skateistan started in 2007, skateboarding now has the most registered female athletes in Afghanistan. In 2012, Skateistan was a victim of a suicide bombing, which killed four of its participants. One year later, the project still stands strong, particularly in its education of girls - a population whose national literacy statistics for ages 15-24 are 31% lower than their male counterparts.
YUWA - India
When a girl is born in the state of Jharkhand in India, her life has usually already been planned out for her. She is isolated-- if she is not seen working, she is harassed. She is illiterate-- more than six in ten women can't read. She is vulnerable--an estimated 30,000 girls from Jharkhand are trafficked every year. She is married off--Jharkhand leads Indian states in child marriages and human trafficking. 55.7% of women in Jharkhand experience child marriage. She gets pregnant and gives birth to a daughter. The negative cycle continues. Through self-initiated, peer-led football leagues, as well as lifeskills training and education opportunities, a Yuwa girl becomes a more regular student. She pays attention to her own health and the health of her teammates. She marries when she chooses and will raise a healthy family. The self-perpetuating cycle continues. A girl with confidence can rewrite the script others have prepared for her. More than 600 girls have gone through the programme, and 150 girls show up daily to play sport.
The girls in these programmes challenge the way we think of 'women in sport' - the way sport is used to attain education, healthy lifestyles and safety. And they are succeeding. When I think of Women of the Future, in the global sense and in the sector I work in, I think of the participants of these programmes - like Becky, who has gone on to mentor hundreds of other young girls in her village - and hope, one day, they'll be recognised for going far beyond what any of us have ever dreamed.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.