Changing the game: How girls’ sports participation in India is helping to end child marriage
This blog is also available to read in Hindi.
India has a long and rich sporting history that goes back thousands of years. From Kabbadi: an ancient team sport that is the fastest growing in India; to Cricket: the dearly-held sport that is often toted as the country’s most popular.
Despite having a wide variety of sports embedded in Indian culture, girls and young women are often excluded from participation. This is because of social and gender norms around what is expected of girls to be “good” and ultimately, to be “marriageable”.
At Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, we’re working with our member organisations to use sports participation to shift gender norms. The aim is to show that girls can achieve anything they want, and that marriage is not the only goal.
We spoke to youth activist Priyanka Kumari, 21, from Jharkhand district to find out why she sees sports as important in the movement to end child marriage, and how she is inspiring girls to play.
Hi Priyanka, great to meet you! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Priyanka Kumari, I’m an activist working with the Mahila Mukti Sanstha. I talk to groups of young women and girls, their parents and other prominent people in four villages about the issue of child, early and forced marriage. I want to inspire them to stop this practice, to see that girls do not need to get married at a young age.
I want to be part of a society in which girls can do the same things boys canPriyanka Kumari, Mahila Mukti Sanstha, India
As well as working in the community, I’ve just graduated and I’m about to start post graduate studies. I’m also enjoying training in sewing and IT.
Congratulations on your graduation! It sounds like you’re doing great work to prevent child, early and forced marriage. How does it work?
Through sessions with groups of young women, I share information with them about topics like gender discrimination, troubles arising in girls’ lives as a result of forced or early marriage, patriarchy, and reproductive health and rights. After the session, we play football together, and I encourage the girls to continue to play outdoor games.
I also sit with their parents, panchayat representatives, Anganwadi sevikas (workers) and sahayikas (assistants), religious leaders and prominent people of society and inspire them to help prevent child, early and forced marriages.
The combination of dialogues and playing sports sounds really interesting. What is the impact of girls playing sports on issues like child marriage?
When girls take part in outdoor games, it builds team spirit and relationships between young women. They can share their problems and talk about things like how their bodies are changing as they grow up. It helps them learn and share their issues openly.
Gender inequality and problems like child marriage are related to each other. If the girls hear of another girl getting married early or being forced to marry, they can share the news in a group and get advice.
Playing games and taking part in outdoor games leads to various ways of preventing child marriage as a result.
What are the challenges that girls face when trying to take part in sports?
Girls face a lot of challenges when it comes to outdoor sports. Firstly, they face opposition at home because family members are worried they might hurt themselves. Then, they aren’t allowed to wear short clothes which are best to play sports, because boys often harass them when they’re playing. Lots of girls get embarrassed or intimidated because of this hostile environment.
Girls should also be encouraged to take part in outdoor sports so attitudes to girls and women evolves in society tooPriyanka Kumari, Mahila Mukti Sanstha, India
That sounds very difficult indeed. So, how do you plan to use sports in your work for gender equality?
Right from childhood, girls are discriminated against – including in sports. Girls are expected to play indoors with kitchen sets and dolls, while boys are encouraged to play games like football and cricket. To contribute to gender equality, girls should also be encouraged to take part in outdoor sports so attitudes to girls and women evolves in society too. I want to be part of a society in which girls can do the same things boys can.
We agree! Do you have a favourite sports person that you look up to?
Yes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who belongs to our state, is my favourite sportsman. He was captain of the national cricket team. I look up to him because he has commendable decision-making abilities. He holds the team together and inspires his team. He believes more in keeping the team together than in winning or losing, and this is what ultimately helps the team win!
What is your advice to girls and young people who want to take up a sport, but face barriers or discrimination?
The biggest challenge that girls and young women face is that families prioritise marriage as the most important thing for their daughters. Sports participation creates an atmosphere of fear in their families that if they hurt themselves or break their limbs, they won’t be seen as marriageable.
I would like to tell those girls and women that the advantages of sports far outweigh the risks that they are told about. For example, keeping physically fit; remaining in good health; enhancing their leadership abilities and decision-making skills.
Another major barrier is that girls’ sports don’t receive much investment or resources. Institutions and families need to give this support to make sports more accessible to girls and young women. Once society sees the advantages of girls taking part in sports more, gradually it might gather more investment.
If this happens, girls may go a long way through sports participation in India and more everywhere! I hope together this will contribute to ending child, early and forced marriages, so girls can make decisions for their own lives and futures.
Priyanka was part of a 3-day workshop held in Ranchi, India, which focused on initiating dialogues on gender with young people through sports. This was hosted in collaboration between Girls Not Brides and member organisation Pro Sport Development.
In the time it has taken to read this article 63 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds
About the authors
Mahila Mukti Sanstha
Girls Not Brides
Girls Not Brides is a global network of more than 1,600 civil society organisations from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and ensuring girls can reach their full potential.
Changing the game: Sports for gender equity and ending child marriage
Report produced after a national consultation to understand how sport can be used as a medium to address gender-based discrimination in India.
Region: South Asia
Formed in September 2017, the state-level partnership to end child marriage is currently composed of over 30 organisations from all 24 districts and coordinated by Association for Social and Human…