“It’s about giving a girl the opportunity to participate and to dream”
Alongside the United Nation’s 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women earlier this week, the IOC successfully co-hosted with UN Women a side-event exploring how sport and physical activity can promote gender equality and empower women and girls.
Under the theme “Looking ahead – the place of sport for women’s empowerment post-2015”, the meeting featured a number of impressive and inspirational women and men who have personally experienced the power of sport.
Two-time American Olympic medallist Michelle Kwan delivered a keynote speech. A role model for many young girls and women, the former figure skater gave a first-hand account of the role that sport has played in her life, both as a woman and as an athlete.
She stated: “It’s not always about the medals. Sport teaches you about hard work, dedication, teamwork, discipline, perseverance. […] It's not just giving a girl a ball to play with, but it means so much more than that. It's about giving a girl the opportunity to participate and to dream.”
Over the years, women’s participation in the world of Olympic sport has grown steadily thanks to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s constant action, in cooperation with the International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs). The participation level of women Olympians at the London 2012 Olympic Games was 44 per cent, and over 40 per cent at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. With the adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC reaffirmed its commitment to working with the IFs and NOCs with a view to achieving the goal of women representing 50 per cent of the athletes taking part in the Olympic Games, as well as promoting the participation and presence of women in sport generally.
Other panellists included the Permanent Representative of Brazil at the United Nations, Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota; Mr Werner Obermeyer, Deputy to the Executive Director of the World Health Organisation; Maria Bobenrieth , Women Win Executive Director; as well as Nodar Andguladze, Development Manager for the Georgian Rugby Union. They all spoke about the power of sport and physical activity in addressing key challenges facing girls and women in today’s world.
Discussions also touched on the importance of partnerships for achieving gender equality and equal opportunity and access to sport for women and girls. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasised the need to “harness the exceptional capacity that sport has to educate and to change attitudes. We insist that sport must feature in the post-2015 agenda.”
IOC Member and Chair of the IOC Women and Sport Commission Lydia Nsekera concluded: “Working together, and with other women and men from all sectors of society, we can use sport to empower women and girls to lead more fulfilling, productive and healthier lives.”
Sport can help
Nsekera also delivered an address during the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. She reiterated how sport can be effective in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 agenda, and triggering individual and social development worldwide. The IOC Member underlined how sport can help challenge gender norms, promote health and well-being, act as a platform for quality education including physical education, eliminate violence and empower women and girls.
“The IOC has called on sport organisations worldwide to increase efforts to use sport as a tool for development and peace. The Sustainable Development Goals should send a similar message to the entire global development community. It is a very simple message: Sport can help,” Nsekera said. “Let us look for ways to tap the full potential of sport to achieve our goals.”