The following is adapted from a longer work by Pulane Baloyi, Managing Director of Grassroot Soccer South Africa, in connection with the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. 

Sexual violence, disempowering gender norms in intimate relationships, and values regarding acceptable behaviour and interpersonal relationships are instilled at a young age, limit self-expression and define what is expected in adulthood. Across many of the areas where Grassroot Soccer works, these power imbalances result in severe consequences including widespread acceptance of violence against women, transactional and age-disparate sex, and early exposure to sex.

Each year, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence focuses on the elimination of violence against women and girls. This year, Grassroot Soccer is calling for 365 days of activism to combat gender-based violence.”

The campaign, which aims to raise international awareness, takes place every year from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day). The period also includes Universal Children’s Day and World AIDS Day.

We cannot afford to lose hope in our fight to put an end to violence against women and girls, to engage with perpetrators, and most importantly – to prevent violence before it starts.

Research shows that patriarchal beliefs in society and experiences of violence in childhood are the strongest predictors of perpetration of violence. These patterns of violence in society unfortunately play out amongst adolescents as well.”

Transformation must take place at all levels of society, and for this reason our programming inspires young men and boys to be partners and activists through our SKILLZ programming – calling for an end to violence against women and girls in their communities.

Image courtesy of Slingshot Media, 2017.

Grassroot Soccer undertakes a number of initiatives to investigate and reduce the intersections between violence against women and girls and their vulnerability to HIV infection, not for 16 days, but 365 days a year.

Our programs seek to address the unique needs of girls and young women, challenge negative gender norms, decrease gender-based violence, and engage boys and young men in creating more gender-equitable communities. Male participants have shown improved gender equitable attitudes, while female participants show a 23% improvement in gender-equitable beliefs.”

For over a decade, Grassroot Soccer has been an innovative player in HIV prevention through our dedicated community role models, curriculum and use of soccer to break down barriers, building trust and educating young people to adopt healthy lifestyles. To intensify our efforts, Grassroot Soccer is expanding our scope to a broader adolescent health focus that also includes gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and HIV. As an organisation, we recognise the crucial intersections between violence, harmful gender norms and HIV. We also acknowledge that we will not be able to achieve these ambitious goals on our own, and as such, our organisational strategy includes collaboration and partnerships.

Grassroot Soccer is committed to the promotion of human rights and gender equity, internally and in our programmes. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence initiative compels us to reflect and recollect in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and across the globe, as well as unite in our efforts to eradicate violence against women and children every day of the year, for years to come.

Want to learn more? Find out how Grassroot Soccer is addressing gender-based issues and sexual and reproductive health and rights. To stay up to date on news, impact stories, and ways you can help change the game for young people, subscribe to our newsletter.