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FIFA-UNICEF campaign under way to break down gender barriers in schools

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©UNICEF China/2007/Li Mingfang
Japanese women’s football team member Eriko Arakawa (left) at a pre-tournament training session for the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007 in Shanghai.

By Simon Ingram

SHANGHAI, China, 13 September, 2007 – Eriko Arakawa, 27, fell in love with football at a very early age.

“When I was five years old, I used to hear the sound of my older brother playing with his football – throwing it and dribbling it. I really liked that sound and I knew I wanted to play, too,” she recalls.

Now Ms. Arakawa’s sporting career has taken her to this month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 championship in China as a member of the Japanese national squad.

Representing her country on such a stage naturally something Ms. Arakawa takes great pride in. She hopes the tournament will send an inspiring message to parents around the world.

“I hope that when they see us play, mothers and fathers will take interest and let their children play football – especially the girls,” she says. “If that happens, I will be really glad!”

Benefits of child-friendly schools

The aspiration of overcoming gender stereotypes underpins the ‘Goals for Girls!’ campaign – UNICEF’s latest joint undertaking with FIFA, the world governing body of football.

Officially launched at a Shanghai press conference on 7 September, ‘Goals for Girls!’ aims to promote the message that gender stereotypes can be overcome, not just in sport but in all walks of life. Moreover, it champions the right of girls to benefit from a quality education.

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© UNICEF China/2007/Li Mingfang
Speakers and guests seated on the podium at the UNICEF-FIFA press conference launching the ‘Goals for Girls!’ campaign in Shanghai on 7 September 2007.

UNICEF’s education programme in China has been putting this idea into practice since 2005 through its support for the Chinese Government’s child-friendly school initiative. Originally piloted in 3 remote western provinces of the country, the effort has now seen some 1,000 child-friendly schools spread across 10 provinces.

“What makes a child-friendly school special is its focus on the rights and needs of the whole child,” says UNICEF China Chief of Education and Child Development Anjana Mangalagiri. “The school becomes not just a place of learning but also a place that offers a safe, healthy and gender-sensitive learning environment.”

Sports equipment distributed

Sport is an integral part of the child-friendly school package because of its importance in promoting self-esteem, teamwork, fair play and respect for others. But the reality was that in the schools targeted by the programme, sports equipment was rarely available and teachers had little motivation to do anything about it.

This prompted UNICEF to begin distribution of Sport-in-a-Box kits containing footballs, basketballs, skipping ropes and other equipment to allow children the opportunity to enjoy a variety of games during playtime. Over 300 such kits have been distributed to schools so far.

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©UNICEF China/2007/Li Mingfang
A girl attending class at Guyi Township Centre Primary School, one of the UNICEF-assisted child-friendly schools in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The reaction from the children has been overwhelming – not least from girls like Yang Xuelian, 12, a sixth-grader at Chalu Yifu Primary School in Yunnan Province.

“Before we got the sports equipment, we didn’t know how to play,” she says. “Now we’ve not only learned to play many games but learned how we can be healthier and happier.”

A platform for success

As Ms. Mangalagiri acknowledges, providing sports equipment is only one step towards ensuring that organized sport is part of every Chinese child’s daily life – and that girls have the same opportunity as boys to benefit from it.

“Putting Sport-in-a-Box in schools has been a catalyst,” says Ms. Mangalagiri. “It has prompted a more responsive attitude by schools towards sport.” One hurdle that has emerged, she adds, is the lack of qualified school sports instructors, without whose involvement girls all too often get pushed aside by the boys.

The ‘Goals for Girls!’ campaign may well stimulate the drive to find answers, offering a platform for female success stories like Aya Miyama, another member of the Japanese squad now in Shanghai for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007.

“When I was a child, I wanted to play football with boys, but I hated always being beaten by them,” she explains. “So I trained harder and found out that, if I worked for the same goal and dream, as hard as possible, I could play with the boys.”


 

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Video
7 September 2007:
UNICEF’s Simon Ingram reports on the launch of the FIFA-UNICEF ‘Goals for Girls!’ campaign in Shanghai, China.

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