Reproductive and sexual health through Sport for Development

Eeva Mäkinen, December 2021

Reproductive and sexual health rights include social, political and economic inequalities that affect women’s and girls’ access to reproductive and sexual health care 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.


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 the external eye. 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 woman’s power to control her own body is linked to how much control she has in other spheres of her life, just 48 per cent women and girls aged 15-49 years in 36 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) 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 discussion about sex and sexuality is a crucial entry to advancing gender equality. 





Victory after a football match in Nairobi. Photo by MUKURU ANGAZA

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 gender-based violence 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. By holding a discussion about sexual and reproductive health through sport and movement, it 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 team mates, respect for our own and others’ bodies and boundaries. Sports also induces 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 considered a male-dominated field, and including girls helps disrupt gender norms, take over public spaces and advance gender equality. 




Dance class in Nairobi. Photo by TAA Art Organisation, member of Lightup Impact Community.

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 dance and movement to empower youth; and Mukuru Angaza Film Academy uses soccer to facilitate mentorship programs to instill hope, discipline and tap on talents of their communities.  


Cycling project in Kilifi. Photo by Wheels of Hope, Member of Lightup Impact Community.

Wheels of Hope leverages the power of cycling to support marginalized teenage mothers and youth. 


“We teach marginalized teenage girls and boys on 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.


Soccer practice. Photo by Nivishe Foundation

Nivishe Foundation addresses gender-based violence 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 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 how to engage sports with reproductive and sexual health and gender-based violence programming through our resources.

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