08 Nov

Creating a Safe Place for Girls to Play Sports - Part 2: Awareness of the Cultural Environment

The Nanhi Kali girls in India are craving more Football following their first taste of the sport in a district level tournament in India.   A group of 12 girls entered the tournament with no prior football experience and came away with losses on the field but a winning desire to learn the game.  The female group leader, looked to The Naandi Foundation for some technical guidance in growing the sport program.  One of the first questions Rohini Murherjee, Chief Policy Officer of Naandi, asked the group was when will they find time to train.  The leader responded:

“We will train from 5:00 - 6:00 in the morning; before religious studies and school begins.”     

No one would question the passion of these girls and women to learn and teach sports, when looking at this schedule!   But the decision to train so early in the morning was not only due to the girl’s busy schedule but also an interest in avoiding too much attention from the community around.

In my experience living in north america and europe, it was such a common sight seeing girls playing sports on a field or in a gym.  Although full gender equality in sports is still an ongoing development, most would not hesitate when seeing a girls football tournament on the local community fields.  But, in India, the norm is very different as most open spaces are filled with boys and their cricket bats or footballs.  Girls are rarely seen around the sporting activities, even as spectators. 

Awareness of the Cultural Environment

An important element of creating a safe place for these girls to learn sports is providing an environment where the girls feel comfortable to play.  India has such a rich yet complex culture that can have varying notions of girls and their place in society.  At times, these notions may look on sports for girls in a less positive light and think of sports as a realm exclusive to boys.  These cultural expectations can weigh heavily on these girls as they look to begin their sport for life journey.  Thus, starting training at 5:00 in the morning is one way to draw less attention to the girls; it is an opportunity to find a window in the culture to play sports.

The Nanhi Kali Sports Program in India, is beginning to build a sports curriculum for 150 000 underprivileged girls aged 6-15 years old.  In an effort to provide a safe environment to play, reserving playing areas for the exclusive use of the girls program is helping girls feel more comfortable and confident when practising sports.  One of the girls in the program explained:

“Until now I had never played games. I was scared of doing exercises and feeling very shy.”

There is much work ahead to continue to ensure that safe places are offered to girls playing sports all around the world.  Global sport organisations are working hard to develop policies and toolkits to help in this pursuit.  The process is lengthy but necessary.  The Nanhi Kali Sports Project is fortunate to have the Naandi Foundation, leaders in creating safe places for girls in India, driving this wonderful sporting program.  The sporting world needs more supporters such as Naandi to help ensure that girls can play sports safely wherever they are.

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