By: Rati Bishnoi
For the thousands of Kenyan girls participating in the Moving the Goalposts sports program in Kilifi district, Kenya, playing soccer is not just a physical exercise. Instead, participating in the girls-only sports program is an exercise in learning to be confident, growing into leaders, and re-envisioning a world in which girls can do just as much as—and be just as respected as—boys.
Moving the Goalposts’ administrators recognize that building a new generation of leaders in Kilifi requires helping young women to manage the various factors that shape their lives. As a result, the organization uses football and sports activity as a entry point to address gender issues in the community and to help improve the socio-economic and health status of girls in one of Kenya’s poorest districts.
The rural district has few opportunities for girls to fulfill their potential, with only 20 percent of girls finishing primary school and transitioning to secondary school. In addition, young girls and women ages 10 to 24 years old are particularly vulnerable to having unprotected sex, becoming pregnant, undergoing unsafe abortions, and contracting HIV.
Since 2001, with only 120 girls, Moving the Goalposts has grown to include more than 3,000 players, 25 leagues, approximately 100 trained referees, 80 coaches, 30 peer educators, and 20 peer counselors.
Driven by the slogan “Tunaweza,” which means “We can!”, girls in the program gain confidence, build the ability to make more informed choices about their lives, cultivate mutual trust and respect with others, and establish strong bonds with teammates.
The program also helps create a more supportive environment for young girls and women by holding “Tumanyane,” which translates to “let’s get together,” days with parents and community members. In addition, peer counselors work individually with girls and with families to identify specific cases of abuse or stress within participants’ lives.
Moving the Goalposts has commissioned several independent evaluations to understand how their program impacts the lives of participant. According to one evaluation, the longer a girl was in the program, the more likely she was to agree that she could make important decisions, access sexual and reproductive health information, and follow “her education as far as any boy.” Overall, the longer a girl spent in the program, the more positively she viewed herself.
According to a recent policy brief from the Population Council, “there is growing consensus that sports can play a meaningful role in girls’ lives.” The brief adds that well-designed and carefully implemented programs can:
- Provide a safe space for girls to learn new skills and build assets
- Challenge and breakdown gender stereotypes
- Make girls visible in the public sphere
- Transform how girls see themselves and their power
- Build leadership skills
- Expand girls’ knowledge of their bodies, rights, and health
- Create role models for others
- Build social networks
Moving the Goalposts’ results suggests that engaging girls and women in sports and helping communities support such activities can help build future leaders, improve health and knowledge of rights, and promote gender equity and the social inclusion of girls and women.
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Youtube Video courtesy of Moving the Goalposts