Gender Equality and Empowerment through Soccer

genderempowermentWhen I reminisce about playing soccer as a young girl in California, I remember the sheer excitement I felt every Saturday morning right before the first whistle blew. I remember that the best feeling in the world was to celebrate a goal. I remember my smiling teammates with matching uniforms and enthusiastic cheers and I remember the confidence gained from being part of a team. Little did I know that my participation in the game was shaping me into the woman I am today. The invaluable knowledge, social skills and life lessons learned were overshadowed by my desire to play. Consequently, it is not surprising that the United Nations, governments, sports organizations, non-profits and the private sector have recognized that participation in sport has unique attributes, which contribute to personal, community, regional, national, and international development objectives.

In challenging times for Haitian communities, such as the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010, many vulnerable young girls will have limited opportunities. Haiti Sports 4 Development: HavServe’s Youth Soccer Program (HYSP) uses soccer as a tool to contribute toward the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, including the third Millennium Development Goal (MDG3): promoting gender equality and empowering girls, youth and women.

HYSP’s pilot project, located in the village of Lebrun, actively promotes Haitian girls’ participation in soccer. Attendance in HYSP offers the girls the opportunity to play Haiti’s favorite national pastime while working harmoniously to create equality and empower young girls. Specific curriculum uses soccer as a platform to promote a healthy lifestyle, enhance social skills and challenge gender norms.

Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle: Physical activity can extend life expectancy, benefit physical and mental health, and improve general well-being. By actively participating in soccer, young girls can reduce their chances of suffering from depression and anxiety and non-communicable diseases such as cancer, stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, many sport for development organizations, such as HYSP, instill awareness of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera and other preventable diseases through prevention education including knowledge of and access to sexual health information.

Enhancing Social Skills: Soccer’s social integration provides a unique opportunity for Haitian girls to build confidence and self-esteem, acquire skills such as communication and discipline, and practice cooperation and teamwork. HYSP’s specific curriculum, which focuses on trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, contributes to the overall character of girls and youth in the Lebrun community. Requirements of HYSP include monthly workshops on character education, community clean-up, tree planting and water conservation. As a result of HYSP’s emphasis on character, the social and life skills attained by their soccer players have the potential to empower and enhance the lives of young girls and youths for many generations.

Challenging Gender Norms: Women often have unequal and disadvantaged roles in social, political, economic and educational issues. Sport has the potential to challenge gender norms and the responsibilities and privileges experienced by men and women. In many countries, soccer is predominantly a male game. However, HYSP creates a supportive environment for young girls where they have the strength and confidence to accomplish formative goals and make informed decisions about their lives. By promoting soccer to both sexes, they are allowing female participation to begin changing communities’ reaction to conform to conventional roles, ways of thinking and behavior. Challenging gender norms through promoting equality and empowerment will not only benefit girls, women and youth, but can benefit the entire community by contributing to social, political, economic, and educational development.

Using soccer as a tool for development, HYSP has a special potential to achieve MDG3 by promoting equality and providing the knowledge, skills and opportunity for empowerment in the village of Lebrun. Through equality and empowerment, females will have the support to make successful life decisions and opportunities will increase for the future of generations to come. In a nutshell, HYSP gives young girls in Haiti an opportunity to play a rising role in determining their own futures.

To contribute to this volunteer-driven not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization and give the gift of soccer to young girls in Haiti:                                           

For more information about the HS4D/HYSP Girls Soccer Team, contact me at:

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