On the podium facing the audience were IOC Member Nicole Hoevertsz; UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women; Heather Cameron, Founder and CEO of the NGO “Boxgirls”, which uses women’s boxing as a catalyst for social change; Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghan national women’s football team; and Maria Arago, Event Manager, Valencia Club de Fútbol (Spain), a UN Women programme partner, for a talk and a question-and-answer session moderated by two-time Olympic swimming champion Donna de Varona.
Nicole Hovertsz, who is leading the IOC delegation at CSW60, spoke first, stressing that the theme of this event reflected “the pressing need for all stakeholders to work together in order to find appropriate solutions to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls; especially the endemic issue of violence and abuse. Eradicating violence against women and girls requires eradicating discriminatory attitudes that condone or encourage it.”
Observing that sport itself is no stranger to violence against women, just like the domestic, workplace and educational environments, Nicole Hoevertsz explained: “Sport is a great equalizer. Race, income, class, religion and other factors that can become triggers for discrimination have no relevance on the field of play.” She added: “Sport builds confidence and decision-making skills. It encourages self-discipline and provides a sense of accomplishment. Sport encourages women to take control over their lives and their bodies. It gives adolescent girls a sense of ownership and self-respect that encourages them to stand up for their rights. Sport offers a platform to teach boys and young men to respect women.”
“Sport can help us reach more gender equal societies, because sport uses its convening power to rally communities, engage youth, reach out to the most difficult and vulnerable groups, and create shared interests. For all these reasons, the recognition by the United Nations of the important role that sport plays promoting healthy lifestyles, education and social inclusion is a great milestone for the IOC and the whole Olympic Movement.”
Nicole Hoevertsz concluded by highlighting the sustainable legacy that the forthcoming Games in Rio will leave, thanks to the work of the Brazilian government to empower women and girls, not just in Brazil but throughout the world. “Let us join efforts to further invest in young people in order to creating social transformation that will greatly contribute to a better world.”
For his part, Brazilian Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota spoke about the progress made by Brazilian women at the Olympic Games, and referred to the legacy left by the football World Cup in 2014, particularly with regard to tourism and sexual exploitation. He highlighted his government’s efforts to promote women and athletes in particular; and noted the need to get men involved in these efforts to achieve a change in culture and ensure a lasting legacy from the Games.
Heather Cameron, who travels the world with “BoxGirls” working on education and rights for women, running projects to help refugee girls in Germany and building schools for girls in Cape Town townships in South Africa, stressed the importance of proper education for the different communities.
The moving story of Khalida Popal
Kahlida Popal touched the hearts of her audience by telling her story, that of a girl who wanted to play football in Afghanistan, her constant struggle and the painful choice of exile that she ultimately had to make. “ I started playing football in 2004 as the first woman. Together with some other play-ers, I made history in Afghanistan as the first woman playing football. In a country like Afghanistan, a male dominated country, where the man is taking decisions for the women; it’s so difficult for women to stand for their rights and to raise their voices. In Afghanistan, we don’t have the culture for the sport, especially for women. We started football to have fun. My mother was my sport teacher. She always encouraged me towards a healthy lifestyle.”
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: “Sport is magic!”
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka provided the closing remarks. “We really talked about something that strengthens women. It is about the positive, it is about the resilience, so that’s one of the reasons why sport is so important. The work that we do, for and about women and girls, is a lot about things that women are fighting against. Sport gives us an opportunity that puts girls and women in the best positive light. It shows off their strength and their capacity to be winners. But also, sport is important in our society and in the work that we do because it provides particular skills we may need in the world of work and in the private life,” she began by saying.
Sport has given us opportunities to form exciting partnerships. Sitting on this table are our part-ners,” she added. “Brazil, as a country, is a partner, for us and IOC. And together in Brazil, we in-tend to reach and impact all the girls and boys in the community of Rio through the use of sports, and addressing all kinds of issues, from empowering them, from self-esteem, and of course, also, the tricks and the trade of the game. And that will a legacy that we will together leave for the people of these cities and these communities.”
“There’s a magic in sport and we certainly want to be part in this magic as UN Women.”
Click here to read Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's speech.
It is now traditional for the IOC and UN Women to organise a joint side event during the Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March. Last year, the event was held during the period when the Member States were discussing the post-2015 development programme. This offered the IOC a unique opportunity to expand the role of sport, which is now recognised as an important enabler of individual and social development all over the world.