02 May

Sports Office Hour - A women's empowerment collective

The world continues to battle the pandemic scourge and no more so than in India.  Daily news highlights so many of the tragedies that are unfolding and people are seeing family and friends around them suffering.  Any opportunity that offers a sense of hope and comfort is needed and sought after. In these challenging times we continue to see the power of sport offering moments of comfort and support.   The women’s sports collective at Naandi Foundation is offering these much needed moments to the community.

Sports Office Hour

As part of our sports program at Naandi Foundation, we began holding weekly ‘Sports Office Hours’ on zoom for our senior women program officers last year.   It was designed as an opportunity to drop in and talk about what is happening in their communities in sports and to ask any questions they may have to the Sports Director.  What we had not anticipated was that this meeting would evolve into an opportunity for participants to use the group as a leadership empowering opportunity.  The women slowly began taking over the ownership of the group and shaping it. The emotional support and community energy was constantly growing.

Katherine Hay, Deputy Director, Gender Equality, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, suggests in her investigation into ‘women’s empowerment collectives’ that  “we’ve seen that when women come together, they can collectively overcome some of the barriers and biases that hold them back.”  This is exactly what our weekly online sports office hour had evolved into: an opportunity for women to come together to find ways to overcome the barriers to sports for women and girls in India and to defy the biases that hold them back.  Through their discussions and stories from the field, along with support from the sports director, these women were sharing examples of challenges and barriers they were facing and they were finding solutions together.

Every week we heard countless examples of problem solving: if the space to do sport is too small, they modify the activity; if they don’t have enough equipment available they find substitutions; if the space is not available, they find another location or different time. The everyday obstacles are endless but so are their solutions!

In the Sports Office Hour, women are coming together online, from different corners of the country, and are empowering each other.  Together they are finding solutions.  All they needed was an opportunity, encouragement, and the belief that they can be the problem solvers.

The Power of Community

As India continues to struggle and suffer through the pandemic, all sports for the Naandi program have been put on hold.  The priority is on keeping the communities of over 150 000 women and girls safe and healthy.  Without sports taking place on the ground, we wondered whether we should hold our sports office hour and whether our senior women program officers would be able or interested in attending during these trying times.  But, in the end, we went ahead with it.

To our surprise we had one of the largest attendance in recent months and the ‘hour’ continued well into the 90th minute!  Although the theme of our meeting was sports, one understood quickly that this gathering was more about the need to be with a comforting community, to have a break from the tragedy that surrounds everyone, and to share their story.  Women were expressing their gratitude at having an opportunity to see familiar faces and smiles; to reconnect with ideas of positive health and mental strength, reminding themselves of who they are in different times.

Organisations such as the Gates Foundation are looking to understand how women’s empowerment collectives can help women “mitigate the pandemic’s negative consequences.” Our Naandi women’s sports collective is one founded and based on sports and physical health. However, in a simple and soft way, our consistent women’s sports office hour is offering our community support, a sense of continual belonging and hope; some of the essential basic needs in this pandemic battle.

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