Sport for every girl and woman in Cameroon
For many years, sport has been one of the most important socio-cultural learning experiences for boys and men. These benefits should be afforded our women and girls too. There are many advantages for girls and women to get involved in sport:
Girls who do sports have stronger immune systems and run a reduced risk of chronic illnesses later in life such as; high blood pressure, diabetes, endometrial, colon and breast cancers, as well as heart diseases. Girls involved in sporting activities have lighter and more regular periods and experience less cramping and discomfort during their menses. Physical activity and sport can boost the mental, psychological and spiritual health of rural girls and women. Girls and women who are involved in sporting activities have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not get involved in sporting activities.
Using sports, RuWCED works with volunteer coaches to train young girls to take leadership roles in organizing different sporting sessions towards building their confidence and leadership skills. The coaches also encourage children and youths to challenge stigma, bullying and violent behaviors from others in society. The program is coordinated by our community health educator and psycho-social counsellors who lead discussion sessions on HIV/AID, SRHR education, standing up to bullying and discrimination. In effect, in the communities where we work, almost all forms of sexual violence (bullying, harassments, and rape) are blamed on girls (they were; inviting, or; did not dress/sit properly, or "behave well as girls"). In cases of rape, ‘victims’ feel ashamed and are shamed. According to the country’s penal code, rape is defined as sexual intercourse with a woman, whether at the age of maturity or below, by force or moral ascendancy and under article 296, rape is punishable with imprisonment. However, it is the victim’s responsibility to gather the evidence that rape occurred using proofs like -but not limited to- the fact that a neighbour/someone heard her screamed or she had injurie to her body etc which are in themselves complex and can be stigmatising.
Since 2013, RuWCED has been using the power of different sports (football, handball, racing etc) on a weekly basis to train rural youths on leadership, self-esteem, and anti-stigma against HIV/AIDS, prevention of VAWG, as well as other related bullying behaviors in and out of the school setting. We have directly coached over 1000 young girls on leadership skills and on ways of engaging their peers in SRHR discussions to prevent unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and reporting of rape cases without fear of repercussion because of the confidence of the support network offered by our sporting teams. We have through our sporting events also educated more than 70,000 supporters who come to our competitions on various community challenges including forced child marriage, living HIV+, the importance of adequate and appropriate access to SRH for adolescents. We have equally eased the tensions surrounding exclusion of kids born to extremely poor parents who use to experience bullying and mockery from their peers. Our use of role models as sports mentors has made most children to understand that being born into a poor family is not a signature to social exclusion because everyone has the SAME HUMAN RIGHTS that need to be respected, protected and fulfilled.
In general, we use sports to change discriminatory and oppressive social norms, including behaviors and practices which contribute to perpetrating VAWG while at the same time use training periods to support the empowerment of young rural women and girls to become agents of change to challenge bullying, violations of their SRHR, increasing knowledge about and expanding access to specialist women and SRH services. Competitions for rural girls are usually organized under the captions “girls too have the right and can say no”, “rape is a crime”, etc. and are used to educate the rural girls and the broader community.