Sports are being used all over the world to promote gender equality, public health and the empowerment of social outcasts.

In patriarchal societies sports and games are being used to empower young girls and encourage fair play regardless of gender, leveling the playing field, as it were.

But gender is just one of many social barriers that sports are used to break. Football (soccer) in particular is popular for reinitiating orphans, former child soldiers or sex slaves, refugees, children with disabilities and children of varying races into communities.

In 2003 a UN task-force announced the birth of Sport for Development and Peace (S4D) Towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, officially making sports a tool for fighting world hunger, poverty, disease and discrimination.

S4D disperses its funding among organizations that promote physical activity as a right among children and use its exertion to demonstrate equality.

UNICEF holds sport festivals where it educates children and families about hygiene, the importance of vaccinations and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Grassroot Soccer (GRS), based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, launched an HIV/AIDS Education Program that encourages children to talk openly about HIV/AIDS and builds a community of peers who will bring what they learn back to their families.

In addition to encouraging peaceful resolution and fair play, sports can have a way of giving control back to children who’ve had their rights or bodies stolen from them.

Within the parameters of a controlled environment young girls and boys are free to rule and judge for themselves, experience consequences, team-building and the payoffs of hard work.

Regardless of culture, countries all over the world are accepting physical activity as a way to nurture empowerment and collaboration. Victims of human trafficking practice yoga in India to reclaim their bodies and establish inner-stability. Children play basketball in South Africa to overcome racial stereotypes. All-girl football teams in Brazil empower young women to overcome their social inhibitions. After a tough game, coaches in Zimbabwe talk to their teams about practicing safe sex.

The UN is making international sport a priority, and hopes that one day children everywhere will have the space and the right to play.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: UNICEF, Sport and Dev, Sport and Dev
Photo: What’s On