Cultivating girls as leaders through sports in Pakistan
Playing sports can have a profound influence on the lives of youth, especially girls. Ejaz, an alumnus of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan (Global UGRAD-Pakistan), has seen the impact sports have had in his own life. Now, he is using his love of athletics to help underserved young women in his community build their confidence and self-worth.
“Men and women…both need to be very strong to form the base [for society to thrive],” Ejaz says. “Any weak pillar will create a gap in the development of a model society. Therefore, if men and boys want their communities to be successful, they [must] believe in women’s empowerment.”
Advocating for female empowerment
Sporting events and team competitions have a huge potential to help empower women and girls. By participating in athletics, women and girls can help break down stereotypes and negative misconceptions they face, such as that they are weak or incapable. Research shows that participating in sports can also help women and girls improve their self-esteem, develop their leadership skills, amplify their voices, and improve their broader community engagement – creating a powerful force against gender inequality.
When he was growing up in Pakistan, Ejaz had never thought about what he and his male friends gained from playing sports, such as teamwork skills, leadership opportunities, and methods to manage stress. While in the United States, he recognized that sports could bring men and women together to advocate for female empowerment.
Ejaz’s beliefs about women’s participation in sports echo the strong connections between team athletics and women’s empowerment. However, Ejaz comes from a community in Pakistan where athletics and team competitions for women and girls are often an afterthought. While participating in the Global UGRAD-Pakistan program at the University of Idaho, he noticed that women of all ages and abilities played sports. He met female students who played on competitive and intramural teams, and he saw what an important role sports played in their lives.
“Young women need more opportunities to grow their strength and reach their potential,” Ejaz says. “It is important for men and boys to support women and girls and help them get stronger physically, emotionally, and socially.”
Creating equal opportunities for participation
Inspired by what he learned in the US, Ejaz returned to Pakistan determined to create opportunities in his community for girls to participate in intramural and team competitions.
“In our area, no proper importance is given to girls’ sports,” says Ejaz, “I want to change that."
Playing on the pitch has helped me become a more confident decision-maker, developed my self-confidence, and pushed me to become a leader on and off the field.
A participant in the two-day sporting event
Ejaz partnered with a local girls’ high school to host a two-day sporting event. During the event, girls tried out cricket, badminton, squash, and other sports. Over 60 girls participated, and 300 other girls attended the event as spectators to cheer on the competitors. A number of the young women have continued to play sports in the school, and some have gone on to play in college.
“I am still being approached and getting good feedback from the community,” Ejaz says. “I’m happy that I can help provide the girls with the opportunity to learn about sports and make it a [larger] part of their lives.”
After participating in the competition, one young woman said, "Playing on the pitch has helped me become a more confident decision-maker, developed my self-confidence, and pushed me to become a leader on and off the field."
Ejaz has also seen the young women organizing other extracurricular activities, and a willingness from the community to provide girls the space to play in schools.
Strengthening support for women's sports competitions in communities
The event’s success strengthened Ejaz’s commitment to promoting girls’ sports. He has also seen the young women organizing other extracurricular activities, and a willingness from the community to provide girls the space to play in schools.
Ejaz plans to expand the event to a week-long competition and include other nearby girls’ elementary and middle schools. He hopes that these events will inspire young women to realize their full potential.
“I [want to] involve all of the girls’ schools in sports,” Ejaz says, “and bring a message…that [they can] become powerful figures in society.”