Why is it important for girls to play sports? This is a question we ask all of our participants, all over the world. Our female empowerment initiative here at CAC is all-inclusive… meaning we hold ourselves to higher standards than we hold the rest of the world. Our team is made up of at least 60% female coaches, and we do not accept partner programs that do not include women in their activities. It is important to understand, however, that gender equity is the ultimate goal. Yet, so often we hear the phrase, “she doesn’t play like a girl.” What does this mean? How do we move away from this type of mentality that so generalizes and devalues female potential?
The need for female empowerment on a global scale is urgent. We recognize that need and in response, allow it to permeate throughout our organization on and off the field. On-field, aside from leading programs with female senior staff and the most female-empowering men you’ve ever met, we have injected it into our curriculum. Every player has a Gender Equity game. An example of one of these games is Messi for Gender Equity. This game addresses violence with particular attention to violence against women and girls.
In order to bring these issues to the forefront we play a game with variations that point to specific topics. In the first round there are the taggers that represent different forms of violence – physical, emotional, verbal, sexual – that chase the others around a box that represents their community. If tagged, the player has to freeze with one hand covering their mouth, signifying the inability to speak. We will stop and have a brief discussion about that round and how difficult it was for the players being chased. We will ask who in their community can help put an end to violence against females and those answers will elicit a ball. The footballs can be passed among the players being chased, representing members of the community that can help prevent violence and also assist those that have been victims of violence. The players in possession of a ball are safe, and those that are frozen can be freed if a ball passes through their legs. The final round of this game allows the frozen players to call for help, demonstrating that an act of violence did not take away their voice.
Messi for Gender Equity is a terrific game of tag that incorporates the ball and captures the essence of violence – the affects, how to stop it, how to help each other, how to help ourselves. The game embodies the message, and the details come through in the discussions, which, as always, vary as the culture varies. A group of sixty middle-aged men in the toughest neighborhood of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Cité Soleil, Haiti, is going to have a different discussion from a group of twenty teenage girls in downtown Mumbai, India.
With this game, and many others, an obvious target is the voice. A massive part in all that we do, the voice is the most powerful tool that we can use to make our own decisions in life, to make our own choices. Every person, young or old, female or male, is entitled to a voice and a choice, and we work to empower them to claim those rights.
Our Monitoring & Evaluation shows us that participants who know how to use football to give young girls a voice and to have confidence to make personal choices jumps from 17% before to 96% after a CAC training.