United Nations - Division for the Advancement of Women

Empowering women through physical activity and sport

Parallel event at the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Monday 2 March 2009, 1.15-2.45pm, United Nations Headquarters, New York

UN Division for the Advancement of Women (UNDAW)
International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG)
WomenSport International (WSI)

Summary report

The moderator, Ms. Johanna Adriaanse, Chair of the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG), welcomed the participants and introduced the panelists. She explained that this session was a follow-up from the launch of the UNDAW publication “Women 2000 and beyond – Women, gender equality and sport”, at CSW last year. The purpose of today’s session was to report on the implementation of the recommendations of the UNDAW report. She mentioned, among other things, the launch of the Secretary General’s Campaign “UNite to End Violence Against Women” a year ago, which also has its relevance in the context of sports.

Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division of the Advancement of Women (DAW), noted in her speech that sports has the potential of being instrumental in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and she reminded the participants about the value and the power of sport, including its implications for equality, freedom and empowerment, as well as its strength to challenging gender stereotypes. Sport arenas are equally important in providing information to women and girls on reproductive rights, and inform men and boys of gender equality. Ms. Hannan also noted that, generally, there is a persistent unequal access to participation in sports, despite some positive developments the past few years. Echoing the connections to the Secretary-General’s Campaign “UNite to End Violence Against Women”, Ms. Hannan challenged the audience to think about how they all could contribute to the Campaign and in what ways the participants’ work could be useful.

Prof. Dr. Kari Fasting (Norway), President of WomenSport International, provided examples of projects, both national and international, on follow-ups to a few of the recommendations outlined in the UNDAW report. Internationally, Ms. Fasting mentioned, among other things, the consensus statement of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of 2007 “Sexual Abuse & Harassment in Sport” containing both a policy, plan of action, procedures etc, which are currently being followed-up. As an example on the national level, a Norwegian study on Equality and Diversity in Norwegian Sports was brought forth. Seven research questions had been explored through interviews with individuals and reviews of various annual reports and plans. Some of the results, which all had been less than satisfactory, showed for example that only eight per cent of all national sport team coaches were women, and that there was a thirty-seven per cent representation of women on the executive boards in Norwegian Sport Associations. Furthermore, one of the most disappointing results included the lack in most national sport associations, of programmes targeting prevention of harassment and abuse, as well as the lack within all Norwegian sport clubs of guidelines to handle these issues.

Thereafter, Women Win showed a short film.

Ms. Mashuda Khatun Shefali (Bangladesh), Executive Director of Nari Uddug Kendra, the Center for Women’s Initiatives, shared her knowledge and experience on her work in supporting economical emancipation of adolescent girls at rural schools and women in the garment business.
Her organization uses sport as a means to enhance women’s physical and mental strength and self-esteem. She noted that only strong women can change their own situation, and women may, unfortunately, be both physically and mentally weak, due to occurrence of domestic violence, sexual harassment and male domination. The limitations in mobility, especially experienced by Muslim women since they need to be covered up, also affect the situation. She is currently conducting research on national sports life of Bangladeshi women with a gender perspective and noted that, besides the low (but slowly increasing) level of participation of women in these institutions, she had observed that the women and girls participating had been very shy. One of her recommendations was that the “National Sports Policy” which was passed 20 years ago should be fully implemented, in order to offer compulsory sport up to grade eight in school. Further, there is a need to train more female physical education teacher, coaches, referees, managers and organizers for promoting sports for girls.

Ms. Flora Eteta (Cameroun), International Coordinator of GTCF/CONFEJES, noted two specific positive impacts of increased participation of women and girls in sports: related to performance on the international level, women become role models for younger girls, feeding their dreams and making them trust themselves more; and related to increased power in decision-making. Throughout the African continent, initiatives are taken to improve the situation of women’s empowerment through involvement in sport activities. An example of such an initiative is GTCF, which was created in 2000 by decision of the ministers of CONFEJES (Conférence des Ministres de la Jeunesse et des Sports des Pays d’Expression Française). A main focus of GTCF is to promote gender equality especially in leadership positions and the participation of youth – through advocacy, lobbying and proposals to take into account in CONFEJES. Ms. Eteta wished to remind the participants specifically of the recommendations of the UN report targeting the situation of young girls.

Ms. Laura Gajardo (Chile) of the Chilean Ministry of Health gave an account of some of the attitudes among women in Chile on physical activity. Ninety per cent of women that had participated in the study expressed that they never engaged in physical activity, and within that group, eighty-three per cent did not have any information on how and what they could access to these activities. The findings of the study showed that the factors hindering women’s participation in sport were cultural ones, which was positive in the sense that these could be subject to change. As a response to this, the government of Chile had designed a program targeting this group through strategies developed in response to their needs, among other things, by taking into account the specific desires of these women (where becoming thin was more important as becoming healthy) and exploring time flexibility in order to fit these activities into the women’s daily lives. Ms. Gajardo stressed the need for us to learn to ask the women what they want.

Dr. Carole Oglesby (USA), Vice Chair of IWG, focused her presentation on the origins of the cooperation between women’s international sport organizations and the UN, which could be traced back to the time of birth of the UN sixty years ago. The women involved in either the process of building and promoting the UN or the women’s sports groups knew each other, creating a natural connection between the two organizations. She recalled the important instruments such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Brighton Declaration. These instruments have suffered from the lack of enforcement mechanisms, which could be remedied if the issue of sport was encompassed by the monitoring and enforcement strategies that CEDAW provided (through country reports and shadow reports). The next step in fully incorporating the gender aspects of sport and its positive implications for the promotion of gender equality will be to show, through dialogue and meetings with CEDAW, where some of the gaps are in the country reports. Ms. Oglesby also expressed her wishes to see a representative from CEDAW at the fifth World Conference in 2010 addressing these issues, since she considered it critical to join forces with CEDAW process in order for the incorporation of a gender perspective in sport to be successful.

When the floor was opened for discussion, there was a comment made concerning the situation in Rwanda, where girls playing football was used as a tool for focusing on healing and reconciliation, coming from the grassroots and mounting to the national level. Many girls have been victims of rape and sports activities are used as a tool to tackle the traumas. However, it was also noted that this initiative is yet to be further developed.

Due to time constraints, the participants were allowed to submit additional comments and questions via email. This opportunity was seized by Sonny Bzhang and Thomas Jordam, whose comments follow, slightly abridged.

Sonny Bzhang, research assistant of the World Leisure Organization, called attention to the gender bias in media reporting from men’s and women’s national teams. She drew from her own experience during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where she was the only journalist interested in the American women’s Soccer team (until they won the gold medal), while the American men’s basketball team where surrounded by world press from the beginning. Ms. Bzhang emphasized that the media is a good entry point in promoting gender equality in sport.

In his response to this, Thomas Jordan, DPI/NGO Conference, reminded that the Olympic Congress in Copenhagen in October, as well as the Sportsaccord, are events where the role of the media in sports is brought to into the light. In addition to this, Mr. Jordan submitted two proposals to the Virtual Olympic Congress: first, an imaginative use of the Olympic Truce in areas such as domestic violence, linking it to activities on reconciliation (2009 being the International Year of Reconciliation) as well as to the theme of Ireland’s chairing of the Human Security Network; second, an idea directed to the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industries (perhaps through Misato Mazuno) that manufacturers should print some message about the work on this topic in order to get the message out (e.g., web link or something on the Secretary-General’s initiative). There was also a proposal to hold a press conference before the end of the CSW on this. Other proposals included to encourage athletes to promote these ideas (e.g., Kenyan Tegla Loroupe), support ‘Art of the Olympians’, a project of the World Olympians Association, for women athletes to create a series of art, and, finally, encourage host cities of the Games to emulate Beijing “2 Games, Equal Splendor”, in promoting the Paralympics with equal fervor as the Games themselves, as well as to encourage countries to build ‘societies for all abilities’.


WomenSport International
P.O. Box 743
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