Promoting Social Change Through Women's Sports Leadership
The problems that cry out for social change solutions
No one who is intelligent, literate, and who is paying attention could avoid the fact that much of the world today is in need of fresh and creative ways to resolve cultural and social conflicts and to build better communities where families feel safe and futures seem secure. War, bloodshed, racial rage, and mindless military carnage -- in addition to the disturbing, ongoing violence against women -- make up too much of the front pages of daily newspapers. Dramatic social changes are desperately needed, and the plans for those changes have yet to be drawn up by present political leadership in the United States and elsewhere.
Over the first week in October, for example: suicide bombers killed 19 innocent tourists in Bali; car bomb blasts killed numerous citizens and soldiers in Iraq; 6 Hispanic immigrants were murdered in Georgia; two African-Americans were shot to death by a Mexican store owner in Los Angeles, to name a handful of incidents.
Meanwhile, actress Jennifer Lopez is starring in a movie now being filmed about the unsolved murders of over 400 women and girls in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. Lopez' star power, fortunately, helps shed light on the hideous 13-year legacy of blood-letting against women in that Mexican community, which has been largely ignored by an American news media seemingly obsessed with the kidnappings of attractive young, mostly white American females.
Moreover, on the subject of women as victims, Amnesty International has released a report asserting that one out of every three women in the world "has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime" (Khan, 2004) ("It's In Our Hands: Stop Violence Against Women" www.amnesty.org). The report further asserts that: a) more than 60 million women "are missing" due to "sex-selective" abortions, and "infanticide" (notably carried out in China, where baby boys are allowed to live and baby girls are killed); b) "domestic violence" is the major cause of death and disability for women ages 14-44 in Europe; c) Russian government officials estimate that "1,400 women were killed by partners or relatives in 1999" yet no law exists in Russia addressing domestic violence; d) the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that "up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners"; e) in the U.S., "women accounted for 85% of the victims of violence in 1999."
In addition to those data, Amnesty International also reports that women in the Middle East and Asia "are killed in the name of honor"; women and girls in West Africa "undergo genital mutilation in the name of custom"; young girls in southern Africa "are raped and infected with HIV / AIDS because their perpetrators believe that sex with virgins will cure them of their disease."
And the problem goes beyond violence against women and against cultures. The problem is intimately associated with cycles of poverty, poor health, and a lack of education. Further, and importantly, the problem in Western culture is associated with popular personalities in the media -- in movies, television, magazines, books, the Internet -- and in the media's own marketing machines, which tend to promote roles, attitudes and customs that define women as physically desirable but not intellectually, morally or physically capable. Sex sells; and unfortunately, women are placed into unfair, untrue stereotypes that are promoted by advertisers and marketers.
The bottom line in this introduction is, women need to be empowered to generate a more positive future for themselves, their children, and their children's children, in addition to helping those women and children throughout the world who are unable to help themselves.
"Effecting Social Change Through Women's Leadership in Sport" Conference
The United Nations (UN), meanwhile, has launched a campaign to foster an improved international understanding of the use of sports as a unifying force to "bridge cultural and ethnic divides" (Kennesaw State University, "International Year of Sport and Physical Education"). And, the UN, through Resolution 58/5 -- titled "Sport as a means to promote Education, Health, Development and Peace" -- has set out to establish partnerships between governments, agencies, and community sports-related organizations. Those partnerships, the UN's resolution asserts, will seek to promote sports and physical education because the skills learned and fine-tuned in the process of athletics and games include "discipline, confidence, and leadership ... [as well as] tolerance, cooperation and respect."
These above-mentioned positives regarding sports and recreation have been proven to be true over many years, and yet, as the fact sheet from Kennesaw State University indicates, " ... physical education classes are often the first ones to be reduced or cancelled in schools in hard economic times, conflict, or under the pressure from other academic fields." And surely, speaking of hard economic times, there will certainly be economic shortfalls around the world, and most particularly in America. The George W. Bush Administration has pledged untold billions to rebuild the shattered Gulf Coast region following Katrina and Rita, and as to where that money will come from, early hints from the White House indicate existing programs will need to be gutted.
And in the Middle East, an area ripped apart by war, upheaval and ethnic strife, cutbacks in community programs such as physical education and sports programs -- where they existed -- are certain to be dumped or at least radically scaled back.
Meantime, the conference upcoming at Kennesaw State University is aimed at supplying the energy and know-how for women to participate in sports leadership positions as a way of combating challenges as diverse as "HIV / AIDS, extreme poverty, gender equality ... [and] control over one's body." At the international level, and in the big picture, what the conference and the UN hope to do is have " ... A long-lasting positive impact on development, public health, and the environment."
The conference will focus, additionally, on " ... The role of media in shaping society's perception of women," which is a vital link in the realistic development of young female athletes, given the intense pressure to be "thin" and "beautiful" as portrayed by gorgeous models and TV / movie starlets shows. The conference also expects to emphasize "Middle Eastern" issues regarding women and sports, and cultural problems facing El Salvador and Africa in terms of the need for social change and for the empowerment of women and girls in those regions.
Will this huge UN effort be a whitewash, or perhaps a PR campaign of some sort? There are skeptics, and serious questions about such an effort are fair to pose. An article in Sports Illustrated (SI) (Fish, 2004), the journalist points out the specifics of how the UN's approach to using women in sports-related leadership positions could make a difference.
"The idea is to hold sporting exhibitions around the globe," Fish writes, "in the most remote of places." While these exhibitions are being presented, local coaches of sports teams can be educated "in the ways they can further influence lives, on the field as well as in their communities and regions."
Beyond just the athletes they teach and train, effective coaches can have enormous influence in their communities, Fish quotes distance-running coach and coach-trainer expert Mike Spino as saying. "They are really the people that can encourage and motivate people, and make a big difference with these problems that are in their countries," Spino explains. Given that explanation of the high level of value placed on coaches outside the purview of sports, it places enormous responsibility on the UN initiative -- and all who seek to carry it out, including the Kennesaw State University conference -- to locate and provide world class community-empowering training to coaches
The SI article reports that at the time of its publishing (November, 2004), baseball clubs had already been organized and coaches were being trained in Mozambique, a nation struggling with the heavy burden brought on by tens of thousands of men, women, and children who have the AIDS/HIV disease.
But how, the SI writer wonders, can sport help communities in Third World countries create jobs, solve "health epidemics and all the world's other ills?" After first being doubtful, the writer continues, "you think about how folks get off on sports. The passion they bring to the games and those that play them," which in some communities and geographic regions, "borders on hero worship," Fish explains.
Part of the answer to Fish's rhetorical question lies in the words of International Labour Organization (ILO) leader Giovanni DiCola, coordinator of the ILO's part in the UN campaign. DiCola says that sport " ... is a neutral issue in a way, and therefore you can use sport to deal with the most difficult problems that humanities are facing," such as HIV prevention. Also, with sport you "establish a dialogue," DiCola continues; "When you have sport rules and people are able to accept the rules, then automatically you have a kind of a basis for dialogue."