By Geetanjali Master
NEW DELHI, India 12 October 2017 – On the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child champion athletes came together to publicly advocate for the importance of sports in empowering girls at an event co-hosted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India and UNICEF.
“As a sportsperson, I believe gender doesn't matter. “When you choose a life which is different from that which is scripted by society you are bound to face challenges,” said Mithali Raj, the captain of the Indian Women's cricket team.
Regarded as one of the greatest cricketing batters to have ever played the game, Mithali spoke about the need for girls to be firm in their determination to achieve their goals.
She was joined on stage by former captain Indian women’s National Basketball Team, Raspreet Sidhu, Special Olympics athlete, Ragini Sharma, Karate champion, Mana Mandlekar and International para-swimmer and BBBP Champion from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, Rajni Jha, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar
“I want to see a world where every girl has the freedom to follow her dreams and make them come true. I urge parents and caregivers to encourage girls and give them equal opportunities as boys. We should not insulate girls. They should be free to choose a sport of their choice, pursue it actively and then be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.” shared Sachin Tendulkar.
Mana Mandlekar from Harda district in Madhya Pradesh, is now a national Karate champion, was fed up with the constant harassment by boys when she travelled by bus to school and so decided to join Karate. She wanted to challenge boundaries made from traditional mindsets. She shared “If boys can wear what they want to then why can’t girls. I now wear jeans and ride bikes as boys do and also keep up with my sport. It was tough in the beginning to convince my parents but with I persisted and they understood”.
The huge positive impact that playing a sport has on girls has been documented over and over again. Adolescent girls, especially, have so much to benefit because they have less access to and control over public spaces than boys. When you go to a village or a small town in India and there is an open field with children playing cricket or football, it will almost always be boys. Because girls aren’t allowed to go out.
Girls, especially adolescent girls, if given right opportunities and platforms to explore the solutions that work for them, can build better futures for themselves and their communities. Sports is an important medium and can empower even the most marginalized adolescent girls to make informed choices.
Equity and Inclusion
The power of sport is also of particular importance for women and girls living with disabilities as they often experience double discrimination on the basis of their gender and disability.
More than 93 per cent of girls and women with disabilities are not involved in sport and they comprise only one-third of athletes with disabilities in international competitions. By providing girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to compete and demonstrate their physical ability, sport can help to reduce gender stereotypes and negative perceptions associated with women with disabilities.
Rajni Rao Sharma, a para-athlete continuously faced stigma for being a girl, being disabled and having an ambition to swim. But Rajni did not give up. She went through very difficult circumstances and continued to pursue her dream. Today she has competed successfully in national and international swimming tournaments and is an inspiration for many.
“It's very important for parents to encourage their daughters’ dreams,” said Ragini during the interaction.
“Achieving equality for girls and boys, women and men start from our own homes and lives. To make #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao (Save Girls, Teach Girls) campaign a success, we need to first change boys' mentality,” added Rajni.