Lise Grande is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India.
Promoting Women’s Leadership in Sports
Venue: New Delhi
“The Indian society is still not open to seeing women wear shorts and play sports,” said Zainab Khan, the twenty-year-old female soccer player from India’s capital city, New Delhi. Speaking on the sidelines of a roundtable on women’s soccer in India, organized by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN) and supported by UNDP, she added, “We do not even have proper grounds to practice soccer. Currently, we practice in public parks that have absolutely no security.”
The roundtable was the first conference that got together under one roof a diverse and rich array of stakeholders from across the world including the media, government, All India Football Federation, FIFA, NGOs and corporates to discuss the challenges women’s soccer faces in India. Currently, the Indian Women’s Football team are the reigning South Asian Football champions, ranked 50th in the World and 10th in Asia. Despite these achievements, women’s soccer does not get the attention it deserves or that is required to make it world-class. Lack of funds and sponsorships; poor equipment and infrastructure; coaching and education; poor diet and fitness were some of the issues that the members of the roundtable highlighted during the discussion. Raising the issue of employment of women soccer players post retirement, Subhankar Mukherjee, AIFF Director (Teams) said, “Once players stop playing, they are considered deadwood. More PSUs have to come in to employ players and make the sport more attractive for the youth.”
Gender disparities are common in India. The country on the whole is hampered by conservative culture that secludes its women and girls from society. The country’s poor performance on women’s empowerment and gender equality is also reflected in other indicators. For example, India is ranked 132 out of 148 countries on Gender Inequality Index as per the 2013 Global Human Development Report. Women from disadvantaged groups such as the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and minorities in particular face discrimination, exploitation and limited employment opportunities in every field. In view of this, UNDP has been focusing on gender equality and women’s empowerment to not only bring women, especially the ones in the rural areas, to the fore, but also to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and bring about transformational change. UNDP works to ensure that women have a real voice in every domain, be it social, economic, political or sports.
The roundtable also discussed structural barriers for girls’ participation in the sports; state’s apathy due to prejudice; steps needed to popularize girls’ soccer on a large scale; and ways to enhance investment in training, resources and rewards. Outlining the Government of India’s strategy to boost women’s soccer in India, Dr. GSG Ayyangar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports said, “As part of the Government’s scheme, the Panchayat Yuva Krida Aur Khel Abhiyaan (PYKKA), we will develop playfields in about two lakh village panchayats and about 6,500 block panchayats in a phased manner. We will also create an integrated sports complex in each rural block. Sports equipment will also be provided as part of the scheme. In addition, we want to give job guarantee to all sportspersons.”
The roundtable resulted in the creation of a task force designed to support the AIFF’s target of a top five Asia ranking over for the women’s team over the next three years. It also agreed to achieve the following outcomes to promote the sport amongst women- improved performance of National Women’s Soccer team and emergence of positive role models; enhanced investment in women’s soccer (resources and rewards); and popularization of girls’ soccer at the school level.