For many girls and women, playing volleyball or going for a jog are beneficial, stress-relieving pursuits. It is hard to imagine that in some parts of the world, females are banned from participating in sports and fitness because of religious, gender, and ethnic discrimination. The non-profit organization Free to Run is attempting to change that by bringing athletics to women in hard-to-reach parts of the globe.
Based on the belief that the freedom to exercise is a component of human rights, Free to Run teaches sports education to women living in conflict-ridden societies, where the greatest need exists. Due to a lack of security, women are often unable to engage in fitness activities outside of the home.
Additionally, widespread beliefs concerning gender roles often restrict women from playing sports or running. Combating both of these problems, Free to Run has implemented programs that offer safe spaces for women to learn, grow, and break a sweat together.
The Opportunity to Learn and Play
Free to Run is led by a board of directors, many of whom work within the United Nations. This unique organizational makeup gives the group a deep understanding of the international community’s cultural, political, and security issues. Using this information, the board members decide where to plant initiatives based on three factors: the strength of their pre-existing connections with organizations on the ground, the ability to operate safely, and the degree of similar services already being offered. After much consideration, Afghanistan was chosen for the initial programs.
Still in its infancy, Free to Run’s inaugural project was launched in Afghanistan in 2014. In the central part of the nation, a program was developed for domestic violence victims living in a women’s shelter. Able to participate in yoga, aerobics and dance classes, women are given a physical outlet to cope with the trauma they have endured. In the Central Highlands region, the program also conducted a women’s hiking camp for female university students.
Despite having grown up in the mountains, these eleven young women had little hiking experience. Undeterred, the women enjoyed themselves and asked for additional fitness and outdoor opportunities. Because of the success of these events, program expansion is being planned in Afghanistan and South Sudan.
Free to Run is currently developing partnerships with a high school and a university in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands region. The goal is to implement student-led fitness classes and a basketball club to give female students a secure environment to engage in competitive sports. By developing a yoga teacher-training program, the initiative in the domestic violence shelter will soon be self-sustaining.
After obtaining funds for programming in South Sudan, Free to Run also plans to create training initiatives for female coaches to provide regular fitness activities to girls in an internally displaced persons camp. Girls would have the opportunity to learn and play a wide variety of sports, including netball, jump rope, soccer, and volleyball in a female-only space.
Life Skills and Self-Confidence
Research has shown that being physically active promotes a multitude of health benefits. Free to Run believes that bringing sports to these societies is not only beneficial for personal fitness, but also for the community as a whole. When women are given the chance to run, dance, and hike, they gain life skills and self-confidence. Additionally, a platform is created that allows issues such as gender inequality to be addressed. While playing sports may not solve all of the world’s problems, this initiative shows that athletics can create a pathway to allow social unification and peace, one basketball game at a time.
Innovate Development has contacted Free to Run to learn more and will provide an update as further information becomes available.
For more information about the programs and how you can get involved, please visit Free to Run’s website or check them out on Facebook.