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#GirlsCan Campaign Scores For Health at the FIFA Women’s World Cup

By: Anna Dirksen, PSI Consulation; Originally Posted on PSI

The United States faces off against Japan this Sunday in the long awaited final round of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. With both teams ranked in the top four before heading into the tournament, there’s no telling which country will walk away victorious. The only sure winner this weekend will be a team of players who will never actually step onto the pitch: #GirlsCan.

#GirlsCan is a social media campaign dreamed up by Lauren Himiak, a Communications Manager at Women Deliver, and supported by UNICEF, Right to Play, GAIN and One Goal. When the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off in Canada on June 6, Women Deliver brought together their team of like-minded organizations to launch #GirlsCan, a campaign to raise awareness of how sports can positively influence girls’ lives and improve their overall health and well-being. The campaign also coincided with the Girl Power in Play Symposium organized in June by the same group of partners, which focused on a girl’s right to play sports as well as related issues in health, education, nutrition, life-skills and gender empowerment.

Since its launch, #GirlsCan has created quite a buzz on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with thousands of women and girls from around the world posting photos of themselves playing sports and captioning them with all the ways in which sports helped improve their lives.

At PSI, we’ve been following and supporting the campaign from the start. PSI and Women Deliver are close partners on women’s health and we’re looking forward to taking an active role in the 4th Global Women Deliver Conference in Denmark next year.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Lauren and her team at Women Deliver about the success of the #GirlsCan campaign. Here are a few excerpts from that exchange:

PSI: We’ve been excited to see the positive impact of the #GirlsCan movement. How did the campaign come to fruition and what are you hoping to achieve?

Lauren Himiak: Sport programs provide a tremendous opportunity for girls to learn valuable skills like leadership and how to work well with others, as well as an open platform to discuss issues of nutrition, health, education, and more. Yet, girls all over the world are denied the opportunity to play. Wanting to make the connection between the development of girls and sport, Women Deliver decided to co-host a symposium – Girl Power in Play – in June 2015. The two-day invitation-only event was held in Ottawa and focused on the most pressing global issues of girls’ right to play sport and related topics within the fields of health, education, nutrition, life-skills, and gender empowerment.
As we began to collect stories and evidence of the power of sport, I proposed the idea of a social media campaign where girls and women could share photos and stories of the impact sport had on their lives. The campaign, #GirlsCan, was created to highlight exactly what girls can do when given the resources and opportunity, and it’s reach has been overwhelming! To see a post about the influence of sport from a young girl in Nigeria next to a post from Mia Hamm, an American professional soccer player, has been so rewarding. We are living in a time where digital advocacy provides a platform to join forces and create an even louder, stronger voice to create change. #GirlsCan is a campaign that wants not only to raise awareness, but to create real change for girls and women around the world.

PSI: What are the links between sport for girls and improvements in her health?

LH: The playing field is a natural space to share information and educate girls and young women about their rights. Sport programs provide a safe space where girls, many of whom live in poverty, can learn, grow, and thrive. What’s more, sport programs can serve as a powerful platform for health information and education, teaching girls the skills and strategies they need to reduce risk and create positive changes in their lives, particularly related to sexual and reproductive health.

PSI: There have been a lot of personal stories of empowerment shared through this campaign. Are there any in particular that stand out?

LH: It’s hard to say that any story stands out more than another. #GirlsCan has allowed girls and women all over the world to share their personal experiences and dreams – from Afghanistan where Skateistan is encouraging girls to attend skateboarding lessons and stay on for an education, to Zimbabwe where Grassroot Soccer is working with orphaned and disadvantaged girls and boys in schools to raise awareness about HIV and gender-based violence. What has been incredible is how #GirlsCan is raising awareness of how sport programs for girls are an effective, low-cost means of addressing some of the most pressing global development challenges – driving progress in maternal, sexual and reproductive health, shifting gender norms, and creating more equitable societies. A great example of this is Moving the Goal Post, one of the largest girls-serving sport programs in sub-Saharan Africa. The program has reached more than 3,000 adolescent girls in rural Kenya, and an external evaluation of the program suggests that the longer a girl participates in the program, the more likely she is to agree that she can make decisions about her life, have access to sexual and reproductive health information, and believe that she is entitled to the same education as boys. All critical components to achieving gender equality!

PSI: Sometimes with campaigns that focus on complex issues like gender equality and empowerment there can be a sense of “What can I do that will actually make a difference?” Are there things we can each do to create a positive impact?

LH: Absolutely! That is a major component of #GirlsCan – it is a campaign that allows everyone to share their story, as well as their message. You don’t need to have played sport to know the potential it has to shape lives. Part of the campaign includes posting a selfie holding a personalized message of what #GirlsCan do when given the opportunity and resources. Thanks to social media, everyone has the opportunity to raise their voice and join in the conversation. We have these platforms to get a topic like girls in sport trending, and to show decision-makers the power of sport.

We also encourage everyone to sign our Call to Action which calls on all stakeholders to join forces to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of girls and women to sport and play.

PSI: When the tournament ends this weekend, what happens next for #GirlsCan?

LH: We see #GirlsCan as much more than a campaign timed to the Women’s World Cup. It is a campaign that is uniting girls and women all over the world to share their stories and raise awareness so that policy makers, educators, and donors prioritize girls’ involvement in sport. We hope that the conversation will continue, that all will sign our Call to Action, and that girls will begin to see the funding and opportunity for sport around the world.

As a global development community, we will be tasked with putting the new Sustainable Development Goals – a universal set of goals and targets that 193 United Nation Member States will use to frame agendas and policies – into action. One strategy for driving development that has been minimally explored is investing in girls and women, and recognizing sport as a powerful tool for change. And we hope that #GirlsCan will raise awareness of the potential for change sport programs can create in the lives of girls and women.

When girls have the opportunity to play sport, they have the power to change their lives. Getting girls in the game makes them more confident, healthier, and empowers them to improve their lives. And thanks to #GirlsCan, we are hearing from girls and women all over the world whose lives have been positively affected by sport. We encourage everyone to continue the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and continue to share their stories and photos. The louder we can raise our collective voice, the more influence we can have on decision-makers, program leaders, and donors to increase funding and research for girls’ sport programs.

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