“How can we really think about helping women and girls to become more active and what are the barriers for them to become more active?”
In her presentation, Carol Garber, professor and chair of biobehavorial sciences at Columbia University, perhaps best summed up the objective of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s parallel event in conjunction with the United Nation’s Commission of the Status of Women (CSW). Entitled “Sustainable Infrastructure Creation for Gender Equality in Sport and Physical Activity for Girls and Women,” WSF brought together some of the best and brightest minds in the sports industry from around the world to present on their work for the annual CSW event.
Attendees at the event Wednesday morning learned about everything from expanding girls’ basketball initiatives in Somalia to governmental support for female athletic participation in New Zealand to the work that WSF does to strengthen and expand opportunities for girls and women in sport in the United States.
Here are some of the most important highlights from the presentations:
Sport Structures in Southern Africa
Diane Huffman of WomenSport International discussed her work in Southern Africa, stating that until recently, the countries in the region had many sport structures, but very little policy in place to ensure that sport is safe and equitable.
Huffman brought up Matilda Mwaba, who founded the National Organization for Women in Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation (NOWSPAR) in Zambia. Mwaba was able to use data to advocate effectively with the government to implement more policy. Because of Mwaba’s efforts, Huffman said, the government has begun to take action to develop female leadership in sport, and by 2022 there will be an estimated 2,500 more women leaders in sport within the 10-country region.
Reintroducing Basketball to Somalia
Suad Galow was captain of the Somalia women’s national basketball team from 1984-89 before she received an athletic scholarship to play NCAA basketball for a Division II school in the United States. Now, with a daughter of her own, she is the Founder and President of the Somali Women Federation and is working to expand the game of basketball for women and girls in her home country.
The women’s national team was disbanded after the government collapsed in 1991, but Galow has worked to reform the team in recent years. She emphasized the barriers that the girls still face, including having stones thrown at them while they practice.
Getting Girls Active in New York City
Garber works primarily with very young children — aged approximately 18 months to 3 years — and families from Central and South America who have immigrated to the United States. One of the biggest challenges she faces is the fact that in many cultures, boys are encouraged to run around and move, whereas girls are pushed away from physical activity.
“That mom never would have even thought about playing a sport because that was something she didn’t have the opportunity to do,” Garber said. “Girls, especially as they get closer to puberty, internalize that it isn’t ok to move.”
In her work, Garber engages the families and through activity, shows them the benefits of play for girls.
Strengthening and Expanding Access Across the U.S.
WSF’s Senior Director of Advocacy Sarah Axelson highlighted some of the programs that WSF employs in order to create more sport opportunities for girls and women across the country. These included the work the Foundation did for National Girls & Women in Sports Day, speaking out against the IAAF’s proposed regulations of testosterone levels in female track & field athletes and our recent research endeavors .
Prioritizing Girls and Women in New Zealand
Dr. Sarah Leberman cited increased assistance and interest from New Zealand’s government after a new administration stepped into power in 2017. One of the founding members of Women and Sport-Aotearoa (WISPA) Leberman discussed the organization’s newfound ability to work with the government to prioritize gender equality in sport. This has included increased government funding dedicated to expanding participation for girls and women in sport, which Leberman said has been key in working to drive change.
Julie Paterson, one of the founding members of WISPA alongside Leberman, was a WSF Global Mentorship Program mentee before connecting with Leberman and others to launch WISPA.
Portraying the Female Athlete
The final presenter, Nancy Lee, who coordinated the IOC’s Gender Equality Review Project, discussed media representation within women’s sport. She also called upon the organizations in the room and others around the world to re-examine how they are portraying their girls and women. She recommended gender style guides, and stated the importance of a shift in displaying female athletes as “aesthetic” to “powerful.”
“It’s not just about The New York Times and the BBC,” she said. “It’s about how your organizations portray women.”
Finally, she also emphasized utilizing contracts to require gender equity.
“Points and questions to consider with contracts … are you putting a gender lens on it? Do the contracts address quality and quantity?”
To learn more about the Commission on the Status of Women, please click here.