In late September, Grassroot Soccer South Africa Director of Development and Strategy Chris Barkley presented our work using soccer to promote gender equality among adolescents at an international symposium hosted by the German National Committee of UN Women (the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women). The symposium was titled “Sustainable, equal, fair – act now! Gender equality in the post-2015 agenda for sustainable development.”

The backdrop to Mr. Barkley’s presentation was our SKILLZ Street program, which focuses on providing both HIV prevention education, increased self-efficacy, opportunities for sport, and increased knowledge and access to sexual and reproductive health services for adolescent girls. With support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, GRS has been able to improve our approach to preventing gender-based violence, increasing the knowledge level and training of our female SKILLZ Street coaches, and provide better access to youth-friendly sexual assault counseling services.

UN Women Germany presentation

Grassroot Soccer's Chris Barkley presents to a full crowd at UN Women German National Committee International Symposium.

The GRS presentation illuminated community level issues around gender inequality. The crux of the presentation was that adolescence is an important developmental phase – it is often when gender roles and expectations amplify as people transition into adulthood and as young people start to have romantic/sexual relationships and explore their sexuality. Therefore access to effective sexuality education is critical and gender is a central theme of sexuality. GRS research has shown that patterns of violence against women start early in adolescence in South Africa, highlighting the need to engage young people around gender equality. Globally, experiences of violence in childhood is the strongest predictor of violence perpetration later in life – so although GRS works with young people, we recognize the need for whole community transformation – and the need for ways to break cycles of violence. How do you mobilize communities to promote gender equality and zero tolerance for violence? That’s a question GRS wants to answer and we’re working with many stakeholders to figure out how we can contribute to a safer, more just and equal South Africa.

UN Women presentation

Explaining the history of Grassroot Soccer.

GRS is grateful to both the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and to the UN Women German National Committee for this opportunity.