Sport ‘can help fight gender discrimination’


Sport can be a powerful tool to empower girls and women to achieve their full potential in society by creating an enabling environment for gender equality, argues the founder of an international fund supporting women’s sport programmes in an interview with EURACTIV.

Astrid Aafjes is the founder and Executive Director of ‘Women Win‘, an international fund for girls and women’s empowerment through sport activities. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

How can sport activities be an instrument for social change and girls’ and women’s empowerment? 

The main problem for women and girls today is gender-based discrimination. Stereotypes of women’s physical abilities and social roles preserve gender discrimination – as well as social and cultural barriers that prevent girls and women from achieving their full potential. 

In order to break these patterns we have to challenge gender discrimination and unequal gender relations and establish an enabling environment for gender equality. Sport in well-designed programmes can be a very influental means of connecting girls with other girls and women, to teach values, such as tolerance, team spirit, solidarity and fair play as well as to help break social isolation stereotypes, build self-confidence, body awareness and leadership skills. 

Sport also increases the visibility of girls and women in public spaces. It provides a basis for bringing women and girls together and building trust in the group – preconditions for integrating complementary development activities, such as ending violence, organising leadership skills workshops, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and reproductive/sexual rights as well as life skills training. 

Do you think the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa will help raise awareness on the use of sport for social change?

Absolutely, due to the World Cup 2010 in South Africa many corporations, foundations and non-profit organisations have already made additional resources available to implement programmes in South Africa. 

These activities will also lead to other sports programmes in this region and the rest of the world. More and more people understand the power of sport to bring social change and also FIFA is very much aware of its role in this respect. I am very pleased to see that more organisations put increased emphasis on this important aspect of sport. 

Does the EU White paper on Sport take account of empowering women through sport? 

Absolutely, the White Paper on Sport focuses on the societal role of sport as well as on its economic dimension and its organisation in Europe. ‘Women Win’ is active at all these levels. 

At the societal level we promote the use of sport as a way to learn about principles and values, such as fair play, compliance with the rules of the game, respect for others, and other values important to make girls and women active participants in society. In Europe, we focus our work on excluded and under-represented women and girls. Research showed us that girls and women from migrant communities and persons of foreign origin are under-represented in sport. At the same time, the same group often face social exclusion. 

In this regard, ‘Women Win’ also supports organisations that use sport to contribute to social cohesion, more integrated societies and equal opportunities and strive to guarantee ‘access to sport for all’. ‘Women Win’ believes that participation in sport leads to empowered active women and girls in education and as volunteers, employees, politicians, activists or leaders. 

As for the economic dimension of sport, sport creates jobs for women in the sector and we support programmes training women as coaches, trainers and referees. Regarding the organisation of sport, we hope to contribute to increased awareness and gender focus and increased representation of women in management and leadership positions in sport. 

What do you expect from the future EU sport policy programme? 

‘Women Win’ expects that the EU policy paper will increase the engagement and commitment of member states around sport. We also expect that the EU programme will enable and facilitate a platform around sport for gender equality. Of course, we also hope that the EU sport policy programme will make financial resources available for sport programmes for girls and women. 

As for ‘Women Win’, we hope to contribute, through our evaluation and measurement programmes, to EU-research around the impact of sport and physical activities on girls and women. 

What is ‘Women Win’ and how do you contribute to the goal of empowering women through sport? 

‘Women Win’ is the first international fund for girls and women’s empowerment through sport activities. 

Many organisations around the world use sport as a means to empower girls and women. In well-designed programmes, sport brings girls and women together on a regular basis, breaking social isolation and increasing social integration with other girls and women. From this basis, any number of activities can and do happen, in the promotion of important development goals, such as education, employment and health. 

However, too few financial resources are available to implement innovative programmes and to scale-up women’s and girls’ sports programmes. There is no platform where organisations can link up for learning and documentation, which is necessary for influencing and building a movement towards the empowerment of women through sport. 

‘Women Win’ was established in February 2007 to fill this gap. Our mission is to empower women and girls worldwide, and we do this by focusing on sport and physical activity as a strategy for gender equality. 

‘Women Win’s’ vision is a world where women and girls are empowered, strong leaders, healthy, free of violence and agents of positive change for themselves and their communities. Our strategic objectives for 2008- 2011 are to support innovative and sustainable sport programmes to empower girls and women and to advocate and promote a social movement around sport for gender equality. 

‘Women Win’ works both in Europe and in developing countries. In Europe, we support organisations in the Netherlands only, but carry out advocacy and promotion activities around sport for gender equality also in other European countries, such as the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Belgium. 


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