Dalton Myers | Empowering more girls and women through sports
A few days ago we celebrated International Women's Day. Annually, March 8 is used to highlight the achievements of women and show how far women have progressed in various aspects of society. Sports is no different. This gives us another opportunity to reflect on advancement (or lack thereof) of women in the sporting arena.
We have had some watershed moments for women such as the 1975 Conference on Women in Mexico City, followed by the United Nations (UN) Decade for Women (1976-1985), which culminated in 1985 with the third UN Conference on Women in Nairobi. Since then, there have been several initiatives targeting improving the lives of women, including Beijing 1995 and later, Beijing +5.
In Jamaica, there have been some improvements, but there are several areas where change is needed as girls and women in sports still struggle to find a consistent medium through which they can hone and develop their talents. While track and field and netball provide several opportunities for girls and women at various levels, other sports such as basketball, cricket, and football struggle.
At the high school level, the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Girls' football competition has struggled to attract interest from the media as well as the average Jamaican. At the senior level, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has not hosted a senior Women's League since 2016 and has struggled to upgrade the competition from an amateur league. When it was last held, there were very few interested teams. Obviously, this then has created a challenge in consistently developing a quality national team of local players over the past few years as there is little room to develop those skills locally.
The Jamaica Basketball Association (JaBA) has not been able to host a senior Women's League since 2012; and even though six years later a team will be competing in the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Australia, there are very few opportunities locally for girls to play.
Other challenges evident
In cricket, similar challenges are evident with no schoolgirls' competition and challenges hosting a consistent senior women's tournament even though the West Indies is one of the best women's team in the world with a Jamaican - Stafanie Taylor at the helm.
So 18 years after the UN General Assembly convened a special session for the five-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, there are areas that we must improve on as we look forward to next year's celebration of International Women's Day. This is important because there is a plethora of literature highlighting the importance of sports and physical education to girls and women.
The Women's Sports Foundation paper entitled 'Her Life Depends on It: Sport, Physical Activity and the Health and Well-Being of American Girls' links the impact of physical activity on the "physical, psychological and cultural health of girls" while 'Benefits Why Sports Participation for Girls and Women' highlights some of the key benefits for girls participating in sports. These include but not limited to:
- high self-esteem and low level of depression;
- prevention of chronic diseases in later life;
- substance use prevention;
- sexual and reproductive health;
- educational and social dimensions;
- athletic interest and participation;
Additionally, as I have stressed in a previous column, we need to increasingly create safe spaces for girls to be able to participate in sport without fear of sexual harassment or other forms of gender-based violence.
One of the main thrusts of this year's Commonwealth Games 2018 is the equal number of medals for men and women, along with a big push to have more females participating in sports. So it is evident that increasingly, world governing bodies are examining ways to include more women in sports. We have to follow suit by empowering more girls and women through sports.
I am fully aware of the funding issues, but some of these are based on gender stereotypes and the belief that girls must not participate in some sports. So while we reflect on the achievements of women, let us consider that we have a far way to go to help girls realise that sports can be a viable option for both recreation and as a profession.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Send feedback to email@example.com or Twitter @daltonsmyers.