April 6th, 2014 marked the first ever International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The UN-designated occasion celebrates the fairly new but widely supported notion that sport can transform the lives of people worldwide. The opportunity to participate in sport and play is not only the universal right of a child, it is also a recognized low-cost and high-impact tool that can be used to advance peace-building, humanitarian relief, and development. Thanks to the work of a Dutch non-profit, Women Win, the impact of sport for development does not end there.
An estimated one in three women worldwide has been exposed to sexual violence in her lifetime, and this statistic is dramatically higher in conflict or post-conflict environments. Furthermore, roughly 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy. Of the population of youth who are illiterate or out of school, roughly two-thirds are female. In an effort to tackle some of these urgent gender issues, Women Win has employed the use of sport.
Women Win was founded in 2007 and has been working to advance women’s rights in three key areas: gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health rights and economic empowerment. Capitalizing on the success of organizations like Right to Play, their mandate is to equip female adolescents to exercise their rights through sport. Sport creates an environment where adolescent girls can gain physical strength, confidence, leadership and social skills, but also creates a safe space for them to openly discuss important issues.
Women Win’s approach is centered on three main pillars: strengthen, learn and impact. In addition to providing funding and capacity building support for sports-focused gender projects, Women Win strives “to become a globally-recognized centre of excellence in identifying innovation, building tools and catalysing dialogue to help girls attain their rights through sport.” Because sport as a tool for gender equality is still a very new concept, Women Win aims to act as a hub for development organizations to learn about new innovations and best practices in this arena.
Each year they source and invest in new topics that are being tackled through sport, such as genital mutilation or human trafficking, as well as innovative program delivery methodologies. As a result, they are able to generate increased international dialogue and stimulate collaborative innovation. Ongoing research, investment in grassroots projects, and the development of industry resources are helping Women Win create a powerful platform to address gender inequality.
To date, Women Win has supported 48 partner programs in 29 countries and directly reached 18,000 adolescent girls. Next month, they will partner with Nike on their second annual We Own the Night, a 10K female-only run to support women and sport.
Women Win’s vision is to help up to one million young women realize their leadership potential through sport by 2016.