Reproductive and sexual health rights include social, political, and economic inequalities that affect women’s and girls’ access to reproductive and sexual healthcare services and education. Core components of reproductive justice include equal access to safe abortion, affordable contraceptives, and comprehensive sex education, as well as freedom from sexual and gender-based violence (GBV).
When we talk about sexual health, we often only refer to reproductive health. Yet, sexual health is more than reproduction and contraception. We need not forget about pleasure, bodily autonomy, and confidence, which are core parts of healthy sexuality.
Women’s and girls’ bodies have long been under scrutiny. Bodily autonomy is a universal right, yet more than half the women in Sub-Saharan African countries do not have the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek healthcare.
“When a woman’s power to control her own body is linked to how much control she has in other spheres of her life, just 48 percent of women and girls aged 15-49 years in 36 Sub-Saharan African countries are able to take their own decisions regarding their body and health.” – (UNFPA 2021)
Lack of bodily control, thus, affects other areas of life as well. Cultural barriers, taboos, and gender inequality hinder reproductive rights and justice. However, opening up discussions about sex and sexuality is a crucial entry to advancing gender equality.
Sports address sexual and reproductive health and rights in Eastern Africa
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a key area of sport for development programs in tackling GBV in the Global South. It includes sexual and reproductive education and training by using sport and movement as tools to provide a safe space to address sensitive and taboo issues, such as consent and contraception. Holding a discussion about sexual and reproductive health through sport and movement helps increase girls’ agency, leadership, and life skills to apply in other spheres of life.
Sports provide a community and place to share experiences with others, but it also teaches about open communication with teammates and respect for one’s own and other’s bodies and boundaries. Sports also induce body and self-awareness, which translates to a collective level of bodily awareness and respect. By investing in girls’ confidence, leadership skills, and autonomy through sports and SRHR, we contribute to gender equality and in turn to sustainable development. Certain sports, such as football, are still male-dominated, and including girls helps to disrupt gender norms, take over public spaces, and advance gender equality.
Social organizations in the Lightup Impact network utilize sports in their development programs in Kenya. Kerio Rights Organization offers volleyball and cycling to raise awareness among youth on sexual and reproductive health and rights. TAA Art Organisation engages in dance and movement to empower youth, and Mukuru Angaza Film Academy uses soccer to facilitate mentorship programs to instill hope and discipline and tap into the talents of their communities.
Wheels of Hope leverages the power of cycling to support marginalized teenage mothers and youth:
“We teach marginalized teenage girls and boys about reproductive and sexual health matters in sessions we have in some villages. We target girls mainly as they are the biggest victims of teen pregnancies due to lack of knowledge on sexual matters.” – Collins Wekesa, director of Wheels of Hope.
Nivishe Foundation addresses GBV and mental health through sports programs:
“We conduct weekly safe spaces offering psychosocial support for young mothers and teenage mothers which also serves as safe spaces for victims of GBV. Throughout our program, we use sports for passing more information on Mental Health, SRHR, and GBV.” – Amisa Rashid Ahmed, founder of the Nivishe Foundation.
Sport for development has the means to engage both boys and girls by bringing the community together to learn new skills and reduce inequalities. Learn more on how to engage in sports with reproductive and sexual health and GBV programming through our resources.
Author: Eeva Mäkinen