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Triumph of Women and Sport

The benefits are obvious to those working in the field.

“Think of all the benefits young men derive from sports—young women get the same effect,” says Olympian basketball gold medalist Jennifer Azzi, who—through her connection to the NBA and WNBA—has run basketball clinics in South Africa, Tanzania, and Abu Dhabi. “The girls feel validated that they can play sports. They are so excited.”

“You can see a personality shift,” says Ayub, who wrote a book about her experience with girls from Afghanistan called The Kabul Girls Soccer Club. “They became so much more outgoing. They really found their voice.”

The organizers and volunteers who help run clinics, camps, and group activities are convinced of the power of sports to effect change. That belief stems from the lessons learned in the decades since 1972 when Title IX was adopted by the US federal government: that sport builds healthier, more confident girls. That sport teaches life lessons about cooperation and teamwork. That sport creates leaders.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has a gymnasium full of statistics backing up those assumptions, ones that are now taken for granted in the US and many other developed countries. Studies show that female participation in sports leads to higher graduation rates and test scores; to a wealth of measurements of improved health; to higher self-esteem; to lower drug use; lower pregnancy rates; and fewer eating disorders.

All those Western-molded lessons potentially hold true for girls and women anywhere. And all those newfound benefits can create strong women who will become involved leaders.

“Sports gives women the confidence to use their power, to be in leadership positions,” says Tuti Scott, a former executive at the Women’s Sports Foundation who now runs Imagine Philanthropy, an international consulting firm that supports philanthropy.

A young woman named Maihan Wali helped form a basketball league in Afghanistan. Despite discouragement and outright threats, she persevered and uses sports as a vehicle to teach other young women about their rights. Now the captain of her national team, Wali’s influence extends beyond sports. She spoke last summer at the Women Deliver conference in Washington DC and has been honored as a global changemaker.

“What sports does—in a safe environment—is give women their voice,” Scott says. “The woman who participates in sports might be more of a risk taker, might run for a council seat, might question how land ownership is decided, might make better decisions about how to tackle economic conditions. It all circles back.”

Scott is on the board of Women Win, an organization founded in 2007 to empower women through sports. Founder Astrid Aafjes started her organization after participating in a women’s race in Casablanca where witnessing 20,000 women racing through the streets of a Muslim country became a powerful, life-changing experience.

“Sports is positive, universal, and cuts across cultural differences,” Aafjes says. “A girl that feels confident about herself and understands her body will be more likely to say no to violence or unsafe sex.”

Despite the known benefits of getting girls involved in sports, numerous hurdles exist—including lack of resources and stubborn cultural codes—that challenge communities’ abilities to create these opportunities. Much of the funding for sports programs is top down, funneled through or influenced by massive entities such as the International Olympic Committee or FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. . . .


Mercy Kareithi's picture

Let's talk about sports

Great piece Ann, great strides in women empowerment through radical means. Quoting Albert Einstein, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them", so way to go soccer, basketball, squash, tennis, name it all.

Soccer has been used in kenya to make peace especially after the PEV-Post election violence in 2008. Some TV programmes have used soccer as the story line. One such programme was 'THE TEAM' that showed how members of a new Kenyan football club learnt to deal with their tribal, ethnic, social and economic divisions.

Viva sports...on y va sweaty revolution!!!

I'm more than a bit shocked to note that you've run, with this article on women being triumphant in sport, a photograph taken by a very talented friend of mine -- without crediting her! For a website with such obvious high intentions this is certainly a low action. Karma is a real bitch, and I expect she'll bite you hard for this if it's not corrected pronto.

I've been on the side of women for 64 years minus one day, at this particular point in my life, and want you to know I registered with World Pulse TM (!) just to give you a piece of my mind. That said, if you wish to redeem yourself and acknowledge my friend's talent as well as appropriating it for your worthy cause, get back to me and I'll remind you who she is. You've got my e-mail address.

Corine Milano's picture

Cookie in New Jersey, Thank

Cookie in New Jersey,

Thank you for your concern about Emily Anne Epstein's photo. It is always our policy to give due credit and compensation to the wonderful photographers who make World Pulse Magazine's aesthetic possible, and we regret that a misunderstanding has lead to this situation. We are in touch with your friend and working on making it right.


Corine Milano
Managing Editor
World Pulse Magazine

Tshego Jeremiah's picture

Women and Sport

It is with great pride and joy that I come across this page, I come from a small country in Africa called Botswana. Our population is just over 2million, I work for a sports organisation where we encourage women in sports, one of our projects is called Women and Sports in Botswana. Recently Botswana won the bid to host the world international conference on women and sport in 2018, the past recent one was in Helsinki Finland, where 800 delegates from across the globe attended. The International Working Group on women and sport is an independent body which aims to promote awareness of girls and women sport, to seek inclusion of issues to women and sport on the agendas of major international conferences, to support national, regional and international networks for women and sport development amongst others. I am part of the Local organising Committee for this amazing conference to be held in our home country in 2018, events will be held leading to the conference, so anyone interested in being a part of this initiative, please log on to our website on, and also go into our face book page, international working group on women and sport, and please like the page. Hope to unite women in sport across the continent and the rest of the world.

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