Gender inequality and gender-based discrimination is an age-old problem in our society. Young girls and women are breaking gender stereotypes and participating in sports with equal vigour and passion. Consequently, sports has become one of the impactful platforms to promote gender equality. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has acknowledged sport as an important facilitator of sustainable development. Moreover, the United Nations acknowledges the role of sports in achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality).
Moving in this direction, Pro Sport Development (PSD) believes that sport is a powerful tool in the holistic development of youth and children. PSD has implemented various sports-based interventions at the grassroots in India since its inception in 2013. Through the Community Sports Program (CSP), PSD regularly organizes mixed-gender games and tournaments to aid in the holistic development of children from underprivileged and marginalized backgrounds.
In 2019-20, PSD organized mixed-gender tournaments to bridge the gender gap and promote gender equality, and women empowerment through sports. PSD hosted mixed-gender football and netball tournaments in the schools part of the Community Sports Program in Bhubaneswar, Odisha reaching out to 260 participants (51% girls). These tournaments aimed to break gender barriers and promote mutual respect, inclusion, and better understanding between the participants.
“My favourite aspect of the program is that girls and boys play together. Earlier, we used to play separately. Therefore, interacting with girls was a challenge for me. We were the runners up of the Mixed-Gender Netball Tournament held this year. We considered everybody’s suggestions and together devised a winning strategy”, said Shamim from Vivekanand Shiksha Kendra, Bhubaneswar.
Communication is also key to a successful relationship between members of the opposite gender. Another student from Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir Revati Nayak, said, “I had noticed I was good at goalkeeping in the practice sessions, so I focused on the basic skills during the mixed-gender football tournament. Moreover, our win was down to good teamwork and constant communication among the team. Our ability to interact with each other was an important factor in breaking rigid gender stereotypes and win the game together!”
“Tournaments such as these are important as they provide exposure to children and build peer-to-peer relationships. Moreover, the mixed-gender format helps break rigid social norms that don’t allow genders to play sports together,” Suheil Farrell Tandon, Founder-Director, PSD
In collaboration with Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF) and Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), Pro Sport Development has been implementing the Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) program in various locations across the country to foster gender-equality among youth.
The sports-based interventions in the KBC curriculum ensure equal participation of boys and girls in the activities and games devised to impart knowledge on breaking gender stereotypes and discrimination. This has led to a better understanding among both the genders and is visible both on the field as well as in the classrooms. Moreover, sports provide a great platform for the youth to come forward and raise questions on the issues of discrimination based on gender thereby making efforts to bridge the gender gap.
Alok Kumar, a teacher at Beena Bharati Vidya Mandir said, “The KBC sessions have fostered better understanding between the students. The activities held during the sessions required teamwork thereby imparting sporting values of teamwork, leadership, and communication skills along with respect for the opinions of their peers.”
“Through mixed-gender games in both CSP and KBC schools, we have fostered a change in the mindsets of girls and boys. They have become more comfortable in each other’s presence since the inception of the programs in their schools. The students interact more with others on and off-field and have started to understand and respect each other well”, said Swagatika Khatei, Community Sports Trainer at PSD.
Sports has the power to unite us in a way that nothing else does. Sports foster a healthy personality and equip youth with better communication and leadership qualities along with inculcating sporting values of teamwork and mutual respect for the opposite gender. It can be concluded that mixed-gender games have become important vehicles to deconstruct the myths of prevalent gender-based stereotypes and bring the world closer to a gender-equal society.