Sports and gender


This article focuses on the interaction between Sport, Gender and Women Development in the series of articles highlighting the power of sport to generate real social, economic change and contribute to sustainable development, social cohesion and challenge mind sets and prejudice.

Because women account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its woman…in order to maximize competitiveness and development potential, each country should strive for gender equality – that is, should give women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men. -A world Economic Forum Report
In many countries, it has been recognized that sport can be a force to amplify women’s voices and tear down gender barriers and discrimination. Women in sport defy the misperception that they are weak or incapable. Every time they clear a hurdle or kick a ball, demonstrating not only physical strength, but also leadership and strategic thinking, they take a step towards gender equality.
Women are far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history. The Olympics of the modern era started as an all-male event, with women making gradual inroads to compete in different disciplines. As such, women competed for the first time at the 1900 Games in Paris. With the addition of women’s boxing to the Olympic programme, the 2012 Games in London were the first in which women competed in all the sports featured.

Why talk Gender?

‘Gender’ refers to the socially-constructed roles of and relationships between men and women. Gender focuses on the inequalities between males and females. Analyses of gender differences often show a disadvantaged and weaker position of women and girls in social, political, economic, legal, educational and physical issues.

Role of Sport in addressing Gender issues

The concept of gender equity recognizes that men and women have different life experiences, needs, levels of power and access to decision – making levels in our own society and that these should be identified and balanced.
In recent years, there has been a significant shift from advocating for ‘gender equity in sport’ to using ‘sport for gender equity and personal development’.
Sport provides a way to reach girls on a variety of social issues, including health, education and human rights particularly when social interaction outside the home is constrained. It provides girls with safe spaces in which to assemble, enjoy mobility and freedom of expression, build skills in communication, teamwork, leadership and negotiation and create their own social supportive networks. Achieving sport goals and playing alongside boys increases their self esteem and enhances their self image leading to greater confidence and self empowerment. Given that sport is traditionally a male domain, girl’s participation in sport itself challenges gender stereotypes, breaking deep rooted attitudes held by boys, families and communities.
Exposure to competing at national and international levels boosts public recognition of the skills that women and girls can develop through sport. For example Indian sportswomen, P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Dipa Karmakar Sakshi Malik , Deepa Malik (Paralympic Champion) are not only leaders and inspiring millions of girls and women but are also challenging traditional society norms and gender based sports thinking.
Promoting gender equity through sport

Role of Policy

Government should provide a policy on providing equal opportunities for sport engagement: this could be in terms of education programmes, access to facilities, safe spaces, sponsored programmes for girls and women and human resources. These should be accompanied by proper accountability methods to track progress and achievement.

Role of Society, Education Boards, Principals and Teachers

Girls’ education has profound and long lasting benefits for families and entire communities. After witnessing the Indian Women Power in Rio 2016, we must encourage participation of girls and women in sports from school level. Parents’ awareness and support is critical. School management boards should introduce systemic programmes for physical activity (physical education and school sport), install proper training facilities and have recognition programmes in place. Training and empowerment of teachers is mandatory to motivate girls to participate in sport. Focus should be on participation and fun rather than on competition and performance. This is more effective in achieving an inclusive approach to promoting gender equity Public advocacy and recognition Consistent advocacy programmes on the long lasting benefits of sport, especially for girls, women and community empowerment can impact participation. There should be regular promotion and recognition of women’s involvement in sport as a contribution to public life, community development and building a healthy nation.


Even though there is growth and popularity of women sports, female athletes are still considered inferior to male athletes. Evidence can be in the form of less media coverage on girls and women’s achievement in sport. Compared to male athletes there is an obsession with the body of female athlete rather than on her athletic skills. This inequality within sport will continue to exist until the media re-examines its portrayal of female athletes.

Organizations working on Development of Women through Sport
1. UN Women – The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – See: They work with sports organizations across the world to teach everyone that gender-based violence has no place in or off the field.

2. Women Win – A global leader in girls’ empowerment through sport, leveraging on the power of play to help girls build leadership and become better equipped to exercise their rights. See:

3. Special Olympics – Special Olympics (SO) is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 5.3 million athletes in 170 countries. Recognized by the International Olympic Committee and a federation in India, SO works with girls with and without intellectual disabilities through unified sport. Details :


Shikha Rani-Figure Skater trained by Special Olympics Bharat-Himachal Pradesh.

23 yrs of age , a sport star par excellence Shikha dances with perfect balance, play bocce, takes part in athletics and competes at National and International Sporting events. What makes her a phenomenon is that she engages in all these activities even after being born without fingers and toes, having facial distortions, impaired speech and having mild intellectual disabilities.

Born into a poor family, her journey began wth Prem Ashram, a special residential school in Himachal Pradesh where she joined Special Olympics Bharat and was introduced to Ravi Kumar, her coach and mentor.
Seeing her potential and ability to circumvent her physical condition, her coach put her on to Roller skating. It required intense coaching, focus on balance and coordination. She often fell, hurt herself, but gradually learnt to balance and in 2008 began partipating in Skating competitions. In March 2017, she competed at the Specal Olympics World Winter Games in Austria in solo figure skating.

Shikha keeps pushing herself, fighting her physical condition and is very sincere to her practises. She works hard to be able to face international competition. She has many sporting achievements to her name Sister Vincy, Principal, Prem Ashram : Her life is transformed. The Special Olympics gave her the confidence, opportunities to interact with peers . Earlier, she looked helpless , often trying to hide her face and even her hands and feet. Now, she talks about sports about her practise sessions, her progress.

Ravi Kumar, SO Bharat Coach, Shikha has shown tremendous improvement in her behaviour . It has made her mentally strong and physically fit. She even leads a programme where she is a group leader telling others about Bocce and long jump. Through all the travel involved, she has grown to be self-reliant and confident.
Shikha, is the epitome of grace, strength, courage, determination and grit for her family, friends and millions of followers. She owes this to her engagement in Sport.

Manmeet Manchanda – Sport Fitness Trainer

From a simple girl next door to a fierce Sport fitness trainer, role model and inspiration for girls, women and even men, Manmeet’s journey started from Lancers Convent in Delhi where she recalls her lack of interest in studies and her interests in outdoor sports and activities. From a business family, supported by parents she was able to take part in sport till the time her family business ran into trouble. Leaving her studies she joined her father to make ends meet and revive the business. Following the traditional norm, she took on the role of being a wife and a mother. During all of this she completely lost track of herself and her interests. Her family’s lack of confidence in her abilities to achieve anything in life sent her into a depression till the day she met her first fitness trainer Ravi Chitkara.

Ravi inspired her to get into shape, find her balance and mentored her to be mentally strong. These helped her gain confidence and transform herself. She emerged like a swan and was admired by her friends and family. Manmeet’s journey from losing herself and finding her new confident image made her empathetic towards other girls and women fighting weight issues which motivated her to become a full time fitness trainer.

Manmeet went on to complete professional fitness courses. Currently, she is one of the most sought after trainers. She is mostly admired for her dedicated, persevering and empathetic approach while conducting training sessions . Very focused and goal oriented she motivates her trainees to achieve the unachievable.

In conclusion, enabling girls to access benefits of sport will also ensure that their rights are protected and enhance the range of life choices available to them as women. This will have profound and long lasting benefits for families and communities.

Mona Shipley is a Social entrepreneur, Change maker and Sport for Development expert with over 18 years of progressive experience in education sector. Formerly at the British Council for over 15 years she has expertise in Business Development with Private/ public sector and strategic engagement with Ministries and Policy heads in India and UK. She has headed various transformative, bilateral programmes leading to reforms within the schools, higher education and vocational education sectors. Physical Education Cards, PEC and Connecting Classrooms are some of the key innovative programmes meeting global standards she led on with a buy-in from MHRD and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport. Other key organisations she worked with closely are UNICEF, UNESCO, DFID, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), London Olympics Organising Committee (LOCOG) Youth Sport Trust, UK Sport, Special Olympics, National College of School Leadership UK, School Standards Inspectorate bodies OFSTEAD and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority QCA , UK. She has represented India and the British Council as a speaker on various National and International forums. Is an Aspen institute of Leadership Scholar – awarded to leading thinkers, innovators contributing to their country’s development.