Standing at home plate, bat in hand, cleat digging into the dirt, from across the mound the pitcher shakes her arm, shifts, glances at the catcher and nods-I love nothing more than the anticipation and exhilaration of waiting for a pitch.
As a young girl playing softball, field hockey and basketball, the privilege that came with the simple act of playing sports never occurred to me. I had heard stories from the generation of my mother and aunts, but life pre-Title IX seemed distant.
For many girls and women across the globe though, sports still remain out of reach. Whether their participation is merely objectionable or outright dangerous due to gender norms and cultural customs, they miss the powerful experience that participating in sport provides in both leadership and life.
The VVLead Fellowship Program engages women leaders who provide unusual and sustainable solutions to pressing problems that have impeded women and girls’ progress to participate fully in society and the economy. Sport as a methodology for building development and peace is one of many tactics that Fellows within VVLead employ as they strive to create a more peaceful and prosperous world for women and girls.
In August 2013, three colleagues, 11 Fellows and I journeyed to a netball pitch in a South Delhi, India slum. There we were greeted by dozens of enthusiastic girls, ready to teach us their game and share with us their experiences. The NAZ Foundation (India) Trust’s Goal Programme, led nationally by VVLead Fellow Kalyani Subramanyam and locally by VVLead Fellow Jaya Tiwari, pairs the sport of netball with life skills to transform the lives of young girls in India.
As we spoke with the participating young athletes, one described how, upon first joining the program, she had feared even the act of jumping. She shared that as a child, she and other girls had been warned that jumping was bad for a girl’s health. On that hot, humid August day, there was no sign of trepidation as she and her teammates ran, jumped, passed and shot the ball – and thoroughly beat those of us who had spent much of our lives playing sport!
To date, the Goal Programme has engaged over 16,000 girls across India. Kalyani spoke with the group about a participant who, previously destined for an early marriage and a life focused on cooking, cleaning and sewing as the “ideal wife,” gained the confidence and skills through Goal to seek employment in her area of passion, coaching netball. This story, and the lessons that the participants candidly shared, was a stark reminder of the power of sport. Over the weeks to come, in celebration of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (April 6), Vital Voices will feature stories from VVLead Fellows who use sport for development and peace.