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UN special advisor: Access to sports is a human right (and, BTW, key leadership training)

posted by Fair Game News
Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 8:28pm EDT

Seeking equality on -- and off -- the field. The strong connection between organized athletics and power (political, economic, social) means sports have consequences far beyond the game. FairGameNews.com aims to challenge sex-stereotyped assumptions and practices that dominate sports -- and recognize that sports can be a tool for seeking equal treatment and fair play.

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FGN bloggers interview Rachel Mayanja of the U.N.

By Lindsay Rico and Sarah Odell

It may seem perfectly ordinary — routine, even — to spot girls or women playing soccer, basketball, baseball, softball — or any number of sports. Four women in the Indy 500? Check. But in other parts of the world, girls aren’t always allowed to play. In some places there is little organized physical activity for females. There are no teams, few facilities, poor equipment. And you know what? Complaining about — even recruiting women to join in athletics — can be dangerous. (Later this week, you’ll hear from Nasrin Arbabzadeh, the Afghan woman who has lead the struggle against the Taliban to increase women’s access to sport — and who moved abroad after receiving threats).

Sure, sport looks like fun. It is entertainment. But in many places, the quest for access to athletics training, teams, and opportunities is a push for justice and equal status and power. We spoke with Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary- General and Special  Advisor on gender issues and advancement of women  for the United Nations, about the connection between sports and women’s social and political lives. (Read Mayanja’s keynote address here.)

FGN: What do you mean that sports is a human right?

RM: The right to sport is enshrined in a number of human rights. This is a right that is recognized by the collection of member states in the United Nations. Why should it be denied to women? This conference focuses on allowing women to access sports and physical activity. Very often one hears a position that almost suggests that women’s access is a privilege. But it is a human right that must be guaranteed.

FGN: How does that translate into what girls and women should expect?

RM: Everyone has full entitlement to sport. Equipment must be provided. There is also a need to assure that the facilities are safe. Girls should not come to play a game and be harassed by boys and men. There needs to be a safe environment. Otherwise their families will keep them away and discourage this activity. We must ensure that there is respect and safety for women and girls to express themselves through physical activity.

FGN: In some places, clearly, girls and women have trouble getting access. Why does it matter for them to play sports?

RM: Relegating women to activities other than sports is detrimental. Having women become leaders of teams gives them the skills necessary to become leaders in other realms. These women become role models. If you deprive them of these positions you deny the next generation their role models.

FGN: So you are talking about sports partly for the skills women gain by playing. What on-field skills matter most off the field?

RM: Women can acquire team skills, negotiation skills, and an identity within a team—working with instruction and managing to deal with those instructions. It gives a woman the ability to listen and it gives her the respect of others. The fact that the team is dependent on you teaches girls how to be responsible for oneself and others. You are a part of a family and a community. [Also] as a sports person you need to manage your time. [There are] life skills that can be taken beyond the sport: self appreciation, self fulfillment and self satisfaction. You must be self confident. Discover yourself and your potential. In class you cannot do this—it has to happen on the field.

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