23 Jun

Breaking Gender Stereotypes Through Sports - A Man and His Broom

All over the international sports world, we are looking for examples and displays of gender equality.  International federations and agencies are working tirelessly to create policies, toolkits, and guidelines to help change the sports world and increase gender equality.  These constant efforts are absolutely needed to bring about change and they should be applauded.  However, to millions of women in communities all over the world, sometimes it is the very simple moments in sports that can have the largest impact on their views of what men and women can do.

Driven from within

The Naandi Foundation ‘Sports for Life’ programme is a girl centred, women driven programme in India.  Through the inspiring work of 6000 of our women sports allies, sports is offered to 150 000 girls throughout the country.  One element of the programme is a series of athletics events that culminates in a national level sports celebration.  Through each stage of this 12 month journey our women sports allies get trained to become the officials of our events.  They learn to set up the venue, to time races, to be starters, to measure jumps, to record results etc….  It is through their motivation and drive to learn and grow in sports that enables us to offer our programme to 150 000 girls. 

For the love of sports

At our last national event, one of the sprinting lanes was not in good condition and had to be cleared before the race.  Quickly, I asked one of the gentlemen who was standing close by, to grab the broom and start sweeping away the large stones before the race started in order to help ensure a clean and safe area for the girls to run.  After a millisecond of hesitation and a slight smile, the gentleman picked up the broom and swept the track.

In India, simple daily gestures and actions can reflect the continual challenges of  gender inequality.  “Wherever they live in India girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day.” *UNICEF 2021  Their daily lives are filled with cues that support unequal gender expectations.  The expectation that chores and cleaning are predominantly the work of women are a constant visual cue in the home and community.

On the track that day, the gentleman was one man in a sea of women and girls.  Gender norms suggest that this simple task of cleaning the lane would naturally be filled by women but in the heat of the moment, when the race was about to begin, the priority of the sport took over.   In that instant, the hundreds of women and girls present witnessed a temporary break of gender expectations.  The girls on the track had priority over these constraining stereotypes.  It was only a fleeting moment, but one who’s impact and importance will last much longer in the hearts of these girls and women.   It is a glimpse of different, it is a feeling of self importance and confidence, it is hope of new possibilities.

Our male allies

The movement to increase gender equality needs diverse allies if it is to succeed.  “Changing the value of girls has to include men, women and boys.” UNICEF 2021  In this very simple moment, this gentleman with his broom was indeed an ally.  He was focused on the success of our sporting event, as was every woman present.  They all understood it was critical that the event area was in perfect condition for the girl participants.  They deserved no less and this gentleman believed it as deeply as any of the other women present.   At that moment, he also freed himself from his ingrained gender stereotypes and simply picked up the broom and swept the event area.

In the sea of constant gender cues, sports can offer glimpses of exceptions and can challenge gender stereotypes.  Much more needs to be done globally to change the gender imbalance, but everyday action such as the man and his broom plays a part in slowly chipping away at these gender constraints.   As the pandemic slowly recedes in India, we look forward to returning to the sports field and continuing to empower women and girls through sports, breaking as many stereotypes as we can along the way!


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