There is lots of work on the road following the Global Sports Mentoring Program participants, but I’m also grabbing the chance to have some fun when I can.
Visiting with skater Nancy Chavez at the LPGA in Daytona Beach gave me a chance to try out her board on the incredibly beautiful golf course.
She rides this board through the hall offices of the association and along side the golf carts. It’s a different scene from the streets of Lima, Peru, and it’s giving her a wider perspective on her work in her own country.
Follow the story of Nancy and the other 16 women in the Global Sports Mentoring Program here and here.
Photo credit: Nancy Chavez (Board for camera trade, that she insisted on.)
GLOBAL SPORTS MENTORING PROJECT 2013
As part of a unique project, seventeen women, all emerging leaders in their fields, have been selected from countries around the world to travel to the U.S. and team up with mentors in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and at companies and organizations such as New Balance and the LPGA.
During their time in the U.S. these women will work to develop action plans to take back to their home countries to develop projects to empower girls and women.
The U.S. State Department and espnW have teamed up with the Center for Peace, Sport, and Society at University of Tennessee Center, for the second year of this Global Sports Mentoring Program and everything is in full swing.
This year, I am traveling with the team as we document the stories of these women on their amazing journeys. Nearly two weeks ago we started with an orientation in Washington D.C. and now the women are entering their second week of mentoring.
The changes they are undergoing and the progress they are making on creating plans to develop and carry out projects in their home countries are visible with each site visit. It’s incredible to see these women from countries as diverse as Egypt and Papa New Guinea developing projects that they will install in their home countries with an end goal of empowering more girls and women around the world.
We’re interviewing them, shooting footage and photos of them, and capturing their story while it’s happening. You can follow along and learn more about their stories and journey here on flicker, Facebook, and twitter.
Get to know these women. I have a feeling we may at least one future female president on our hands in this group. Or at the least, some amazing women working to bring incredible change to their communities.
Photos: Shot in D.C. on my first day with the emerging leaders, and their second day in the U.S.
“In my dream I’m looking around, and I’m thinking, how did I get here?”
- Claressa Shields
Last year was a big one for Claressa Shields. It was also a big year for female boxers.
In 2012, for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, female boxers competed at the games.
One of the boxers who stepped into the ring was Claressa. At the time she was a junior at Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan. And not only did she compete, but she stepped out of the ring with the gold medal.
Her road to the Olympics were documented by photojournalist Sue Jaye Johnson and Radio Diaries in collaboration with WNYC’s Women Box.
Follow this link to listen to Claressa tell her story on the Radio Diaries website.
This past weekend Chicago’s own National Women’s Soccer League team, the Chicago Red Stars, took on the Washington Spirit, and the Through Her Eyes Project was on hand to take in the game and participate with a pop up display of photos featured in the project.
It was a super hot and sunny day, and the stands were filled with a great crowd who cheered the Red Stars on to beat the Spirit 1 - 0. Judging by the skills of the women on the field and the girls who were passing around the ball outside the stadium, the future of American women’s soccer looks very bright.
I got a chance to connect with many young players, families, and soccer fans, and to share the story behind the photographs and the women and girls featured in the Through Her Eyes Project. It was a great night for the Red Stars and for their fans.
Congrats to the Chicago Red Stars on their win!
You can find out more about the Red Stars and their upcoming games here. There are only two more regular season home games in their schedule, so go out and support the team. Go Red Stars!
Sport has the power to change the world … it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. - Nelson Mandela
“Sports have freed women, and continue to free women, from restrictive dress, behaviors, laws and customs - and from the belief that women can’t or shouldn’t achieve or compete or win. Sports embody freedom: unrestricted physical expression, travel across great distances, liberated movement.”
-Mariah Burton Nelson, Nike is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports
Women, Iran, and Parkour
An interesting post on the Guardian’s website, by
takes a look at women and girls in Iran and the rise of parkour: “As one student from a Tehran parkour clan says: “It gives us courage and helps us release our pent-up energy. It’s great to feel that nothing can stand in your way.”“
Read the full article here.
And for more on the sport in Iran, you can read an Iranian woman’s perspective featured on France24 here.
Image source: Iranian Parkour Girls Facebook
When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits, this also should be a no brainer. When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and all secure. And, when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society.
Hillary Clinton, speaking at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative
, where she said that empowering women is the “great unfinished business of the 21st century.”
In a 2011 piece titled “A Middle East Female Sports Revolution?" Andreas Selliaas asks the question of whether or not the political movements and changes in the Middle East will extend to social changes for women in the world of sports: "Many fights remain on the matter of women’s rights in sports in the Middle East and it will be interesting to see if the political revolution in the North African countries spills over into other countries in the Middle East."
"Female role models in sports are few in this part of the world. In the biggest championships few women represent and/or do well in sports at the highest level. Barely a handful of winners are born in this part of the world. Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel won Olympic gold in the 400m hurdles at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. She was the first African-born Muslim who managed such a feat.
In 1995, Ghada Shouaa from Syria won the World Championship gold in heptathlon, a feat she repeated at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. These two are among the few great female athletes from the Middle East, born in the countries they represent.
This does not mean that Middle Eastern women do not participate. In the Asian Games in China last year, there were large numbers of women competing. Iran, for example, had 92 female participants, Qatar 56 and Jordan 32. However, we can still talk of a glass ceiling for female athletes in this part of the world.
Selliaas’ commentary and critique makes me wonder what the women and girls in the Middle East think today. Do they see a future beyond what is happening at the moment in their cities and countries? Two years later and the question still remains an interesting and mostly unanswered one, as to whether or not the political and social movements in the Middle East will affect the sphere of social inclusion, including the right to sports for women and girls? And in turn, will social changes affect the political future of the women and girls in the Middle East?
Photo source: Singapore Youth Olympic Games, 2010
A lot in this sport comes down to opportunity. But a great deal is also down to the individuals desire to succeed. That desire to succeed is helped by the fact that somebody in that individuals life encourages that individual to believe in and express themselves. That self belief is very important.
Journalist Mihir Bose’s thoughts on football, self belief, and support. From the documentary Sleeping Giant : An Indian Football Story
"No matter how the odds are stacked against them, girls must first embrace who they are before they can take responsibility for who they might become tomorrow. The hope is to engage all potential change makers, even those standing idle on the sideline, to include them in their vision for a better world. Many times society overlooks the smallest change makers, for the more obvious, prominent change makers. This is however wrong, because every one starts of small; as the saying goes, a big shot is a small shot who never stopped shooting. Collaboration and engagement allow for individuals, teams, and even countries to join their collective hearts and minds in the pursuit of the same goal. But in sports, as in life, you cannot win if you don’t play." - Dr. Auma Obama, (pictured above, left) formerly CARE USA’s Sports for Social Change Initiative Program Technical Advisor on girls, sports, and change making.
Read her full interview here.
Photo source: Ashoka ChangemakeHERs.
So as the Saudi Arabian government inched toward better health with an announcement on Sunday that female students in private schools could compete in sports
, I thought of women from other Middle Eastern countries who already had kept running even against longstanding waves of culture. I thought of their well-informed fathers who usually had encouraged them because they knew it would boost them. I thought of their mothers who sometimes freaked out over their daughters’ participation, but then sometimes witnessed their daughters in action and bought exercise machines.
I thought of the Kuwaiti triathlete at the gigantic Abu Dhabi Triathlon. She could not find a pool that would permit her to train in her homeland, so she found a lagoon near a construction site of chalets. She drove 45 minutes each way to access it. She braved its outsized jellyfish, plus the occasional obnoxious jet skier who might drift nearby. She swam often in complete darkness. She swam in her wetsuit through the cold. She measured out the 800 meters with her GPS watch.
I thought of two taekwondo practitioners, sisters from Oman who came to Abu Dhabi for a meet and extolled their sport as one method of coping with their untold grief after the death of their father. They readily volunteered how the sport had helped them lose weight. Their coach, a 52-year-old former member of the national team who had coached in the Congo, Bahrain and Oman, told of some pupils who had arrived with diabetes (a major regional problem), but had been able to cease the injections by staying healthy through the sport. He said he’d come upon an unexpected realization you sometimes have heard in the West: He found women more coachable. They listened more intently. They relished training more. And he didn’t hear about them getting in fights across town.
I thought of three women from the United Arab Emirates instrumental in starting a women’s soccer league, unthinkable a generation ago. They adored the game so much that they had played right along with brothers and male cousins as children, disabusing their male relatives of notions of female brittleness. One adored it so much that she had gone to Spain principally to see a Barcelona-Real Madrid match. Because of standards about clothing, they would have to play their league indoors, and when they kicked some soccer balls around for newspaper photographs, one girl’s lower leg extended from beneath her abaya, prompting the removal of the photo after a complaint from the father who otherwise supported her hugely.
I thought of two UAE taekwondo athletes with distinguished athletic fathers, one the daughter of a former member of the national soccer team, and one the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the sportsman and horse owner and national vice president. The latter said her father had provided her with continual support and inspiration, and the former noted the “very, very initial” stage of female athletics there but credited her father, who rated sports alongside food in importance.
I thought of an incredible sound: wailing. You could hear it in the press conference room. It came from an adjacent locker room, from Jordanian soccer players who had just suffered a difficult tournament loss.
And I thought of the 24-year-old Iraqi citizen who lived in Abu Dhabi but would return to Arbil in Kurdistan in northern Iraq, where she would go running through the hills and draw quizzical looks from bystanders. She had run since childhood and right on through her peers’ impressions that she might be crazy. She had run because she just had to, and because at school she played soccer and basketball and table tennis and volleyball, and because when she saw grown expatriate women who incorporated running into their lives, she knew she wanted to emulate them.
In some ways, the setting felt like how the United States must have seemed some decades ago, even factoring in cultural dissimilarities. Sometimes I would see these settings and think of that pioneer, Pat Summitt, debuting at Tennessee with her first home game in December 1974 before an attendance of 53. In Abu Dhabi, as they staged a multi-day “olympics” for women, the schoolchildren brought in to cheer the female athletes included girls who no doubt witnessed something their mothers might not have.
Of course, Saudi Arabia does differ. Americans often conflate Saudi Arabia’s neighbors with Saudi Arabia because Americans seldom know the world and because human brains seem drawn to extremes, and Saudi Arabia remains the region’s most restrictive country. It remains the only country on Earth where women cannot drive. Only under orders from the International Olympic Committee did it send its first two female Olympic athletes to London in 2012.
Its public school girls still cannot participate in sports, even with this announcement.
But at least you could feel the world inching along on Sunday. And you could feel it inching along so close to places where, in the eyes and hearts of uncommonly determined women, you could feel it starting to gallop.
Photo credit: Getty Images, 2012. (Sarah Attar, the first ever female track and field athlete to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympic Games.)
The excerpt posted below comes from a piece written last month by Dave Zirin. It was about the Boston Marathon bombings and it spoke to the power of marathons, running, and strength of the human spirit.
Which got me thinking … the marathon is a sport that relies on the inner strength of a single human being. Training is often times tackled alone. And it requires dedication, time, discipline, and endurance. But it is also a sport that bursts with energy from the sideline supporters.
You run along, sprinting at times and trotting at others. And, as is the case in most long journeys, you will most likely hit a point in which you feel like you don’t have the strength to take another step. But you will. Because when you hit that point, if you are lucky, you will have people cheering you on, in person or in spirit. It’s that special force that comes along when you need it most.
Just like the Boston runners who were with Kathrine Switzer that April day in 1967, who pushed a race director out of the way to allow her to keep running, they can provide an unexpected surge. A force of adrenaline. They can give you the kick you need to go just a little further, and push through to that finish line.
Marathoners know that the power that comes from the people who line your way and cheer you on is irreplaceable and contagious. And I think this sentiment holds true for any one who plays sports, or for that matter, any one who takes on a challenge.
Around the world there are many girls and women who don’t have friends or family shouting their names in support as they head out for a run, or walk to school, or join in a pick up soccer game. For those women and girls, and for their communities, the Through Eyes Project is working to do just that, to shout their names and to tell their stories.
As we continue to share stories of girls and women around the world here on the blog, we are also working on research and collaboration with organizations in a few countries in Africa and the Middle East for our next trip. And we want to hear from you. If you’ve got any tips on people we should talk to, organizations we should connect with, and stories we should cover, send us an email and let us know: email@example.com.
As marathon runners know, the 26.2 mile race involves traveling a great distance, hard training, and lots of work. So here at the Through Her Eyes Project, we’re lacing up our shoes and continuing to hit the pavement hard. Thanks for the continued support! And come on over and follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook!
"Through 1966, women weren’t allowed to run the grueling 26-mile race. But in 1967, a woman by the name of Kathrine Switzer registered as K.V. Switzer and, dressed in loose fitting sweats, took to the course. Five miles into the race, one of the marathon directors actually jumped off a truck to forcibly remove Switzer from the course, yelling: “Get the hell out of my race!” But the men running with her fought him off. For them, Kathrine Switzer had every right to be there. For them, the Boston Marathon wasnʼt about exclusion or proving male supremacy—pitting boys against girls. It was about people running a race. Somehow Kathrine Switzer kept her pace as this mayhem occurred all around her. As she said, “I could feel my anger dissipating as the miles went by—you can’t run and stay mad!"
When the pictures from the marathon were transmitted across the globe, the world saw two opposing models of masculinity: the violence and paranoia of the marathon director vs. the strength and solidarity of the other male runners. And at the center of it all, the resolute focus of Kathrine Switzer. In that moment, sports bridged the gender divide and gave the world a glimpse into what was possible. Today, Kathrine Switzer says, “When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying. They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything.””
Photo source: AP, April 1967
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lots of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” - Robert F. Kennedy
Or in this case, each time a woman stands up, or sits down, or paddles out for an ideal, she too creates a tiny ripple of hope.