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Empowering women and girls through sport and technology

Sport and information and communication technologies (ICTs) have something surprising in common: both are drivers of gender equality and women’s empowerment. By teaching teamwork, self-reliance, and resilience, sport and ICTs can provide women and girls with the social connections they need to build self-confidence and create strong communities. Unfortunately, sport is plagued by many of the same gender inequalities seen in the wider world. Issues such as unequal pay, gender-based violence, and negative stereotypes are disconcertingly common, while not enough investment is targeted at female athletes.

As sport moves further into the digital age, the need to ensure equal representation for women and girls can no longer be ignored.

That means making sure girls and women receive the necessary education, training, and encouragement to engage, and succeed, in sport. The same is true for ICTs and all kinds of opportunities in our increasingly digital world.

Celebrating girls in ICT – and sport

Today, 6 April, is the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. As a former Olympic athlete, I have experienced firsthand the potential of sport to bring people from diverse backgrounds together in the spirit of peace and development. This year, perhaps more than ever, as the world prepares to watch the Olympic Games remotely with the aid of digital connectivity, the global community must collaborate to further maximize the potential of sport and ICTs for all.

In both arenas, female athletes need to be featured more prominently. As the saying goes, “If you can see it, you can be it.”

This requires concerted efforts to increase visibility, not only for female athletes, but also for women working in all aspects of sport for development. We must also – especially through social media – model a culture that reflects equality, respect for diversity and non-violence. This is a special year for another reason, too: the 10th anniversary of International Girls in ICT Day, celebrated on 22 April. The theme for 2021, ‘Connected girls, creating brighter futures’, reflects a year-round commitment to the girls who will help shape our global future. Through online access, skills education, digital tools training, and showcasing women as role models, we can equip girls and young women with the necessary skills, opportunities, and tools to empower them in their future careers and lives, both within and beyond the world of sport.

Safety in sport – online and offline

Empowerment depends on a safe environment both online and offline, so that girls and young women can strengthen their skills, including those related to trust-building, collaboration , emotional intelligence, and responsibility. For some girls and women, sport provide a vital refuge from domestic or community violence. All too often, however, sport communities themselves are beset by gender violence and other abuse.

Together with the SCORT Foundation, the ITU Child Online Protection initiative and its partners have embarked on a journey to understand online risks and harms facing children in sporting environments. The ITU-SCORT collaboration, launched on the International Day on Sport for Peace and Development, aims to empower and protect children online and offline, both in sport and through sport. The initiative will support clubs and associations in the integration of child online protection in their corporate policies, measures, and initiatives, with stakeholders ranging from management, coaches and trainers, to parents, educators, and even children themselves.

The powerful combination of sport and ICTs must be harnessed to advance equality.

The next generation of girls should grow up knowing that they can excel at the highest levels in both. Join the upcoming WSIS Thematic Workshop ‘Girls in ICT and Sport’ to discuss, share and encourage gender equality and women’s empowerment in sport and in ICTs.

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