Everybody wins – Gender justice through equal access to sport in Kiribati

Many thanks to Marebu Flood (pictured) and Emma Tiaree who have helped facilitate this new partnership with the Nanikaai Village Committee (image by DFAT)

By Christina Northey, Development Coordinator

In May, the indigo foundation board approved a new partnership with the Nanikaai Village Committee in Kiribati. The Everybody Wins initiative aims to increase the participation of women and girls in sporting activities to build confidence and leadership skills and tackle harmful gender stereotyping. Kiribati experiences some of the highest rates of gender inequality and gender-based violence in the world and we are excited about working with a new partner striving to build more equitable outcomes for women and girls.

Why Kiribati and why sport?

The Republic of Kiribati is an independent nation located in the central Pacific. Comprising 32 coral atolls and one raised coral island, the country is on the frontline of the impacts of climate change. Kiribati communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels and Kiribati was one of the first nations to raise the alarm about climate change creating mass displacement of people and the potential for ‘climate refugees’.

A former British colony, Kiribati gained independence in 1979. It has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific Island countries due to its remoteness from international markets. The capital, Tarawa, hosts over half of the estimated total population of 111,800 with a comparable population density to Singapore or Hong Kong. Much of the country’s income is derived from development assistance and remittances from overseas workers. Nearly all essential food is imported which means an abundance of non-perishable and canned products with low nutritional value.

Young people comprise over 50% of the population with the youth unemployment rate at 54% and female youth unemployment 14.2% higher than male rate[1]. The majority of Kiribati youth do not complete junior high-level schooling and teenage pregnancy rates remain high. Due to urban overcrowding, there are few opportunities for unemployed young people to engage in productive activities where semi-subsistence living is constrained by limited resources.

Non-communicable diseases are a primary healthcare challenge in Kiribati; particularly diseases caused by poor nutrition, smoking and alcohol consumption. Life expectancy is 50-60 years. Kiribati’s remoteness, land scarcity and reliance on imported food in urban areas present challenges to reversing the alarming rate of non-communicable diseases.

Kiribati experiences some the highest rates of gender inequality and gender-based violence in the world. There is a generally high tolerance of excessive alcohol consumption and male alcohol use has been found to be positively associated with intimate partner violence. Overall, 73% of women reported experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence. Around 90% of women reported experiencing some form of controlling behaviour[2] which often results in married women or adolescent girls having restricted movement, including inability to participate in sports. Sporting event and facility bookings also tend to favour men’s sporting activities. Cultural norms that are enshrined in the legal constitution makes challenging harmful gender norms difficult. This partnership sees sport as a community-based entry point to start confront these gender norms outside of a legal framework.

Why is gender equity relevant to sport and recreation?

Aside from the physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits, evidence shows that sport fosters increased self-esteem and confidence of participants and, as such, can unlock opportunities for women and girl’s leadership and achievement. Because sport builds a strong sense of belonging, facilitates social inclusion and community integration, it can act as a vehicle to promote tolerance and acceptance of gender differences. Sport offers a platform to bring men and women, boys and girls together around common goals requiring teamwork and leadership. With the right mentoring and guidance, well designed sports programs and leaders can challenge harmful gender stereotypes and discrimination that can have positive flow on effects to other aspects of life, including encouraging respectful relationships at home, in the workplace and in communities.

Meet our newest partner

This initiative will be driven and managed by the Nanikaai Village Committee, representing a small urban village on the main island of Tarawa. Nanikaai Village Committee is an active, transparent and well-organised village association with a track record of encouraging members to participate in and represent their community in local and national sporting events. All villages in Kiribati are registered under the Ministry of Women, Youth and Sports and governed by a community committee with a nominated chairperson as central contact point.

The primary objective of the initiative is to encourage and enable Kiribati women and girls to get active – no matter how well they do it or how they look doing it. The intended impact is that women and girls will have improved health, confidence and wellbeing through their participation in different sporting and recreational opportunities.

Through this initiative, we expect women and girls will eventually have equal access to sports and recreational facilities and events. We also anticipate women and girls will build confidence and skills to participate in these activities and there will be increasing acceptance for women and girls participating equally with men and boys in sport. Longer term, this work will support communities to increase their knowledge and opportunities to live healthy lifestyles.

How will we get there?

As a starting point, the initiative will source sporting equipment and uniforms for participants.

Volleyball will be the main focus – due to land constraints, volleyball is a practical option, it is the second most popular sport and there is already community acceptance for women to play. We will support the establishment of safe spaces and facilities for all community members to participate in local sporting events and the community will host a series of local tournaments, events or leagues for all genders at all life stages.

Parallel to this, the initiative will undertake action research to better understand the barriers to women and girls participating in sport and test community attitudes towards women in sport. Women and girls will be trained together with men and boys in volleyball skills, including ‘soft’ skills and life skills training, such as teamwork, communication and leadership. Building and maintaining respectful relationships will be addressed as a critical part of the life skills training. We also hope that, through this process, potential female volleyball coaches will be identified.

Identifying community ‘champions’ to role model and promote respectful behaviours and tolerance of gender differences in sport will be important to the success of the initiative. Should the 12 momth pilot prove successful, we hope to build on this with additional activities already identified by the community including establishing vegetable gardens, securing freshwater supply and healthy eating campaigns.

We are thrilled to be entering this new partnership with the Nanikaai Village Committee.

[1] International Labour Organisation

[2] https://pacific.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Kiribati-Family-Health-and-Support-Study_0.pdf