Long-time “From the Field” followers will know that many of our programs, especially those in the Middle East and South Africa, place a special emphasis on engaging girls and women. The reasons for this are many: girls often have less access to recreational activities than boys, the positive life skills they learn through sport can help them develop crucial life skills, and, of course, girls can flat-out ball.
A lesser-known benefit of working with girls, though, is the powerful effect that they can have in peacebuilding efforts. There’s a growing consensus, bolstered by recent works of journalism like Half the Sky and Three Cups of Tea, that one of the keys to building a sustainable peace is making sure that some of that peace’s key architects are women.
The idea (or at least a blog-size simplification of one of many ideas) is that women typically play a central role in the education and moral development of their communities – empowering women has a truly exponential effect. Explains Isobel Coleman, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:
Economists increasingly recognize that nothing is more central to development than the economic, political and social participation and leadership of women. This is particularly true in post-conflict societies, where women often make up the majority of the population and have primary responsibility for raising the next generation. A broad set of data now show that raising female education, increasing their control over resources, and lifting their political voice can have a profound impact on development.
And the effect seems to hold true whether you’re talking about building a police force or a basketball team – they just work better when women are given a powerful voice.
For example, a recent evaluation of PPI in Cyprus noted that on the program’s lone mixed-gender team, “The cooperation between boys and girls is impeccable; they are all part of the same team and behave as such, inclusively…Boys and girls are learning a lot from each other.” Explains one girl:
“Boys realized that girls can also be good at basketball. When they saw that I could pass and shoot and do things well, they trusted me more and included me in their game. The fact that I am a girl doesn’t make any difference to them.”
What she didn’t add, (but we will) is that the mixed gender team in Agros is one of the lynchpins of PPI’s program in the Greek-Cypriot community, one of its most consistent and committed to peacebuilding.
So next time you read about girls‘ activities here on From the Field, remember the obvious stuff – the confidence and life skills that playing sports can provide to girls – but also remember the less obvious stuff, that girls, when given the right resources, can be powerful agents for peace and development.