Sport can be a powerful tool to empower girls and women to achieve their full potential in society by creating an environment conducive to gender equality, argues the founder of an international fund supporting women’s sport programmes in an interview with EURACTIV.
“Stereotypes of women’s physical abilities and social roles preserve gender discrimination,” said Astrid Aafjes, the executive director of the ‘Women Win‘ fund. Both “social and cultural barriers prevent girls and women from achieving their full potential,” she added.
To break these patterns, “we have to challenge gender discrimination and unequal gender relations and establish an enabling environment for gender equality,” she argued, adding that the mission of ‘Women Win’ is to empower women and girls worldwide “by focusing on sport and physical activity as a strategy for gender equality”.
She argued that sport is not only a powerful tool to help build self-confidence and breaking social stereotypes but that it also “increases visibility of girls and women in public space”. This in turn helps prepare the ground for further complementary development activities, such as awareness-raising of HIV/AIDS and reproductive and sexual rights.
As for developing countries, Aafjes believes that the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa will further help raise awareness of the use of sport for social change. Due to the Cup, “many corporations, foundations and non-profit organisations have already made additional resources available to implement programmes in South Africa,” she said.
Aafjes welcomed the EU White Paper on Sport and its three-level focus on the societal role of sport, its economic dimension and its organisation. This, she said, is because sport can contribute to social cohesion and equal opportunities and create job opportunities for women in the sector. In addition, regarding the organisation of sport, ‘Women Win’ supports “programmes training women as coaches, trainers and referees” and hopes to contribute to increased representation of women in management and leadership positions in sport.
Asked what she expected from the future EU sport policy programme, to be established if and when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified and the EU has a competence on sport, Aafjes said she hoped it would “increase the engagement and commitment of member states around sport”.
The fund also expects that such a programme would “enable and facilitate a platform around sport for gender equality” and “make financial resources available for sport programmes for girls and women”.