This 33-page report, published by the Population Council, provides a case study of the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Kenya, and its efforts to integrate girls into a community-based, large-scale youth football programme. According to the authors, the case study provides an example of the role of sports in development, as well as its potential to transform gender norms. Specifically, it documents the nature of girls' participation in the organisation, paying particular attention to impediments to their full participation. It discusses the kinds of social and institutional support needed to bolster the success of these efforts, reviews steps taken by MYSA to transform the ways girls think about themselves and how their communities perceive them, and offers a set of guiding principles for programme planners interested in developing similar initiatives.
The study looks at many of the reasons why girls get involved in the programme. These include team solidarity, education and learning, leadership and skill-building, escape from the confines of daily routines, and public recognition. They also look at some of the barriers or issues girls face in joining the football team - for example, personal safety when travelling to and from practices, gender dynamics in the coaching process, fairness between boys and girls, and negative behaviour toward them from the boys. According to the authors, MYSA continually seeks ways to overcome the challenges it faces. In order to address some of the concerns arising from the girls' teams, the organisation created a girls' task force, modified practice schedules to ensure girls' safety, conducted gender workshops to enhance gender equity, and made efforts to develop female leaders within the organisation via a leadership training programme.
The report also draws key lessons from MYSA's experience, saying that programme planners need to address several critical issues as they develop initiatives for girls. The authors offer the following guiding principles:
- Defining the programme's philosophy and goals - key questions around gender equity and opportunity need to be asked at the outset of any programme planning.
- Determining programme content - a multifaceted initiative that attempts to address the broad needs of girls may be more successful in attracting and retaining membership than one that focuses solely on sports.
- Getting girls to participate - strategies to attract girls must be informed by a solid understanding of the factors that impede or permit their participation.
- Retaining girls in programmes - girls' voices must be heard and their needs met. Planners need to be flexible in setting terms of participation, and enlisting the help of parents and community leaders is critical.
- Identifying measures to keep girls safe - safety measures must be taken in order to enable girls to enjoy greater freedom of movement.
- Offering female mentors and role models - trusted female role models must be identified to serve as mentors and advisors to the girls.
- Encouraging self-expression, decision-making and leadership - girls must be provided with a supportive and collaborative environment where their experience and talents are validated and accomplishments celebrated.
- Encouraging boys to be more respectful - valuing girls is good for girls but also for communities. Seeing girls in new roles can help reshape boys' perceptions of women.
Toolkit Sport for Development website on February 12 2009.