Integrating sports with development and peace

Aleksandar Bodiroza
Saturday 6 Apr 2019

This weekend, over 1000 young people participated in a 2 KM run along the Luxor corniche, attended capacity building workshops and participated in an interactive theatre performance, as they rallied around population issues in Egypt.

This came as part of UNFPA’s Destination Egypt 2030 initiative, which is currently touring the governorates of Egypt in cooperation with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and engaging youth to raise their awareness around different population issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage and family planning.

The initiative mobilizes young people for 3-day activities centered around the run. Destination Egypt 2030 has so far been to Aswan, Qena and Luxor, and is slated to make stops in Minya, Assiut, Qaluibiya and several other governorates.

So how do sports integrate with UNFPA’s mandate?

UNFPA promotes the adoption of an active lifestyle and works to raise awareness around healthy lives, especially among vulnerable individuals and communities.

But more specifically, UNFPA utilizes sports as a tool in the pursuit of developmental gains, including abandoning FGM and early marriage, and promoting rights based-family planning in Egypt.

At UNFPA, we use sports as an entry point for youth engagement, especially young girls’ empowerment.

18-year-old Hegazeya Nasr practices karate in her governorate of Qena to send a strong message: girls can be champions too.

Hegazeya, who was encouraged to sign up for karate after participating in the UNFPA-supported Champions of Change programme, says she walks around in her karate uniform and fends off criticism about dressing like a boy.

A 15-year-old girl called Shaymaa from Aswan seized the opportunity to join Destination Egypt 2030’s run in her governorate. She says she plays football and jogs on the street, tuning out any comments that may discourage her. “It’s just sports!” she says.

These girls exemplify the inclusive and empowering nature of sports.

In November last year, UNFPA organized the first women’s race in Egypt, coinciding with the 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence. The 8 KM race aimed to combat and raise awareness on violence against women and girls and promote their right to safe public spaces.

Over 1000 people ran through the streets of Heliopolis, encountering road signs boasting important messages and statistics on gender-based violence as they went along.

The women and girls who participated said they hoped similar events would take place to encourage women to exercise their right to play sports in public places.

The following month, UNFPA organized the Unstoppable Run for persons with disabilities. The run brought together over 1500 people and promoted the rights of persons with disabilities as well as inclusiveness and equality.

UNFPA and the Ministry of Youth and Sports pioneered the Sports for Development initiative, building on the success of the Crossing Egypt Challenge; a 24-day journey from Aswan to Cairo by four young athletes which was in full swing early last year.

The athletes covered over 900 KM on foot, while engaging in discussion with young people across the nine different governorates they crossed through on challenges and solutions for population growth, including family planning, and combating harmful practices against women and girls. 

On the sidelines of the main event, other activities were held including awareness raising activities, and educational “treasure hunt” games. Athletes from the nine governorates formed teams to join the four runners for one day at each of the governorates.

On the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, which was declared on April 6 by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, we must reaffirm the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as adopted by the Human Rights Council.

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Egypt must promote sports among all segments of its population, and use sports and major sporting events as opportunities to promote developmental objectives.

By mobilizing young people in different communities and challenging the norms and behaviors, by investing in the well-being of adolescents and youth, we will harness a demographic dividend to achieve the 2030 Agenda in Egypt.

*Dr. Aleksandar Bodiroza is UNFPA Representative in Egypt 


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