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It’s My Body

Advancing the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of girls through sports

Women and girls have always been told what they can or cannot do, how they should behave, and what they can wear with little or no decision-making power over their bodies, choices, and lives. Young girls and women experience issues such as discriminatory practices, control over mobility with lack of access to public spaces, and gender norms reinforced through sociocultural interactions embedded within formal and informal institutions, throughout their lives. In order to ensure that women and girls are recognized as individual rights-bearers, challenge existing stereotypes, address negative discrimination, and are able to exercise control over their bodies and sexuality, CREA designed a community-level intervention, It’s My Body (IMB) program, in India with girls (including girls from tribal, Dalit and religious minorities), co-implemented with community-based organizations in two Hindi speaking states of Jharkhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh in India.

Building on 15 years of work on issues of gender, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and women’s rights, CREA initiated direct work with adolescents and young girls in 2009. The IMB program was a result of a previous campaign titled “Against Son Preference” undertaken in three states in India. During this campaign, CREA realized how sport can be used in a rights-affirming way to talk about restrictive social norms, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, and rights.

I am a fat girl. People have always teased me about my body, my weight, my clothes and my style. When I joined the IMB program, everyone said how can a fat girl play football. But, I didn’t give up. I stayed on and practiced. Today I want to tell everyone that I can play and do everything that others can and I am proud to be who I am.

An adolescent girl enrolled in IMB program | Jharkhand

Sports is a way to talk about SRHR for two reasons: first, it breaks gender stereotypes around who can and should play sports, and second, it can be used as an effective and fun medium to initiate a conversation with girls about sensitive yet important topics of mobility (accessing a public space in order to play sports), bodily autonomy, choice (what sport to play, where to play it, what to wear), consent, and pleasure (do I enjoy playing sports? Why do I enjoy it? what do I dislike about it?). These discussions then become starting points for deeper conversations around sexuality and rights.

CREA along with partner organizations also works with the parents and families of the girls enrolled in the program and other stakeholders in their communities to create a supportive and enabling environment for the girls to exercise their rights. Participants of the program also create sustainable support systems by working collaboratively with older cohorts to guide the younger girls in their respective locations. The cohorts work together, guided by community-based trainers, to develop initiatives such as action projects based on the learnings, challenges, and changing gender landscape in their communities. In 2022, as part of the IMB action project, young women in the villages of Ichak Kala and Bara, in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand, challenged the issue of dysfunctional public toilets to finally ensure functional toilets for use, proving how young women and girls step up as rights bearers and advocates for their rights.

In the past decade, IMB has been implemented in collaboration with 15 community-based women’s rights organizations in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh and has reached more than 10,000 girls directly and indirectly. Leadership camps have also helped expand our pool of girls sports coaches who inspire more girls in their communities to play football and talk about gender norms, discrimination, and rights. This has also enhanced young women’s  mobility and overall access to communal spaces that otherwise are typically seen to be for men and boys. The program has also expanded to work with elected women representatives (EWRs) in the same communities on issues of feminist leadership, political participation and gender-based violence.

CREA has since concluded the IMB program as originally designed. However, several organizations continue to take this concept forward by using sport to initiate conversations around gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy. CREA supports these organizations in multiple ways and various capacities.