We truly wish there was no instant connection between sport and the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. But in fact, there is, and the stories that have come up over the past years have been devastating. As Sport for Development projects, we do not just focus on developing life skills or on employability, we also focus on safeguarding. We have the responsibility to create awareness on, not just the beautiful aspects of sport, but also the damaging aspects. Through this awareness, we can play our part in ensuring the safety of all participants in sports and S4D activities and empowering them to speak up.

Over the past 16 days the regional and sectoral Sport for Development projects have collaborated to release daily content to raise awareness on gender-based violence on our Instagram channel. Part of this campaign was a podcast series of 4 episodes with different experts.

In almost all interviews the experts’ motivation to work in this field was intrinsic. It often came from being victims themselves or having seen gender-based violence happen in their communities. In episode 4 of the podcast, Grace Bonareri Mose-Okong’o speaks with Mariam Ibrahim about her trauma of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM). Now this trauma is her catalyst to go into communities to fight FGM. Obviously, this is not without challenges; FGM is sometimes perceived as a culturally essential part of upbringing, and as Grace herself puts it “changing belief systems is not easy.” Through her research on gender-based violence, Grace has a large expertise on this topic, though she insists on the importance of involving communities through participatory strategies.

In episode 3, Veronique Sprenger had an inspiring conversation with Magdalena Spasovska. Like Grace, she shared her very personal trauma about a sports teacher in school who harassed high-school students. This was an open secret at the school, everyone was aware of it, but nobody did anything. Magdalena took her pain and frustration, used it as fuel for her new mission and started an organization that uses sport to help children and youth develop, among others, leadership skills. Maybe one of the students, one day, will have the opportunity to push for better formal and legal policies protecting children and youth against gender-based violence.

Tackle Africa, represented by Rebecca Iliescu and Yianny Ioannou, with whom Mariam did an interview in episode 2, uses football to create safe spaces and to allow girls and women to become mobilizers in their community. They work a lot with role models who can deliver sessions and help children and youth to learn how to speak up. Nevertheless, how can one speak up if they don’t know their rights? Tackle Africa, tries to ensure that children are aware of their rights and aware of the fact that they can say ‘no.’

As the #MeToo movement has shown, speaking up is one of the most difficult aspects of awareness raising. One courageous person who dares to speak up can literally start a movement that can shake the world to its core. Supporting children and youth to become leaders and to learn how to speak up is the start of preventing gender-based violence.

However, it is not just about the women, and it is not just women who fall victim to gender-based violence. In episode 1, Mariam had an intriguing conversation with Charles Simakumba from Namibia. He highlighted the importance of involving men in this discussion. He saw gender-based violence happen around him and decided that he had to do something, so he started mobilizing and engaging the men in his community to raise awareness. In his activism, he focuses on positive masculinity. For him, men should not be ignored and instead be seen as part of the solution.

All the episodes sketch one essential image, which is the power of a voice. A voice that can speak up when in danger, but also a voice that dares to speak up after being victimized. A voice that now is fueled by the pain of experience and will do anything to prevent more victims. All these voices together shape the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. No matter where in the world we are, independent of our gender, we can all fall victim, but we can also all use our voice. So, let’s continue spreading the message because every voice that is fueled by the pain of experience is one too many.

Author: Veronique Sprenger