Play for Change wants to help all children, but girls in particular seem to be lagging behind their male counterparts in their involvement in sporting activities. We are addressing this issue in a number of ways: partnering up with the campaign #thisgirlcan launched in 2015, running the Khelaun Khelaun programme in Nepal, which is encouraging an increased number of women and girls to take part in sport and developing Slam Dunk, our basketball programme run in partnership with Reach and Teach, for under-privileged girls and young women in the UK.
A recent report by The World Health Organisation stressed the importance of female participation in sport. Here are just some of the reasons it gave:
· Physical Health. Physical activity reduces the risk of short-term and chronic diseases during childhood and it reduces the risk of chronic diseases in later life. For girls in particular regular activity in childhood helps to improve bone health, preventing osteoporosis, which predominantly affects females.
· Mental Health. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depressive disorders: by 15 years, girls are twice as likely as boys to have experienced a major depressive episode. Higher rates of physical activity have been linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as an increased sense of self-worth.
· Educational Development. Female athletes from ethnic minority groups reported higher academic achievement as well as greater involvement in extra-curricular school activities and are considerably less likely to drop out of school.
· Challenging Gender Stereotypes. Studies have suggested that participation in sports can help undermine traditional gender stereotypes by demonstrating a link between increased girls’ engagement in sports with an improved performance in mathematics and the sciences, which are traditionally male-dominated subjects. In doing so, girls can challenge the status quo about their roles and capabilities in society.
· Positive Body Image. Physical activities may help girls develop a sense of ownership of their bodies as well as a source of strength for themselves, as opposed to being encouraged to think of themselves as a sexual and reproductive resource.
Not only does sport provide the foundation for positive change in girls’ mental health; but it also promotes greater physical health in their later years and improves their performance in male-dominant academic subjects. This and their increased self-esteem are just some of the benefits of getting girls more involved in sport. With these changes, we can even challenge the stereotypes that have often put girls at a disadvantage in the job market, boosting their confidence and positioning them easily in higher levels of society.
Written by Poppy Pickles in collaboration with Aaron Jay-Chelliah