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It is all in the game: Sports, gender equality and human rights

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It is all in the game: connecting the dots between sports, gender and rights
It is all in the game: connecting the dots between sports, gender and rights
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Undoubtedly, sports and physical activities are essential for our mental and physical wellbeing. But how can a sport help in addressing sexual and reproductive health issues of the youth, and social ills like sexual and other forms of gender-based violence? It looks somewhat incredible.

Well Grassroot Soccer, an adolescent health organization, seems to be doing exactly that. It has leveraged the power of soccer (football) to mobilise youth to become agents of change in their communities.

Grassroot Soccer was originally founded in Zimbabwe in 2002 to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS prevention and control amongst the youth. It used the services of professional soccer players as coaches working directly with the young people. But, since then it has broadened its base by including sexual and reproductive health and gender empowerment programmes for adolescents. It has reached 2.7 million young people from 62 different countries with its sports-based health promotion activities.

Using soccer as the hook, it engages adolescents in making healthy decisions through the 3C's model: an adolescent-friendly and evidence-based health Curriculum, supportive influence of typically young (18-35 years), motivated and role model Coaches, and positive Culture - a fun-filled, inclusive, and positive play-based environment that the coaches create to ensure that adolescents feel safe and comfortable when discussing sensitive topics like sexual and other forms of gender-based violence as well as range of issues around sexual and reproductive health.

Grassroot Soccer uses this delivery model to achieve the 3A's: strengthening young people's Assets- their health knowledge and confidence to use it; increasing young people's Access to youth-friendly health services; and ensuring that young people Adhere to treatment regimens and healthy behaviour and lifestyle.

During an online session of 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR10 Virtual), Nicole Banister, Partnerships Coordinator for Grassroot Soccer, shared some insights from Grassroot Soccer's play-based approach in the Pacific Island country of Papua New Guinea, where Grassroot Soccer has been working since 2017.

Grassroot Soccer, in association with its partners, has developed a Relationship SKILLZ programme for Papua New Guinea, comprising 8 sessions (each 1 hour long) of sport-based interventions for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and to tackle sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, which are designed for mixed sex groups of adolescents 13-19 years of age. The purpose is to help adolescents contribute towards ending sexual and other forms of gender-based violence by building their assets to make healthy choices, increasing access to comprehensive SRHR services, and promoting adherence to healthy sexual behaviours. The curriculum is evidence-based, and in the local context of Papua New Guinea and validated and approved by the young people as well. The programme and the curriculum is designed to be youth friendly and fun.

The coaches work in pairs - one female and one male coach - to co-facilitate the curriculum with mixed groups of 20 to 40 participants per practice. Key themes in the curriculum include rights and responsibilities, gender and power, healthy communication and relationship, forms of gender-based violence and where to access services and critical sexual and reproductive health and rights information, including puberty, menstruation, contraception, HIV and STIs prevention.

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