Photo essay: For adolescent girls in Brazil, ‘One Win Leads to Another’
Date: 28 July 2016
Every day after school, 30 girls meet at the Olympic Vila of Mangueira—one of 22 public spaces with free sports facilities managed by the municipality in the north of Rio de Janeiro—to play basketball.
They range in age from 10 to 14 and come from different neighbourhoods, schools and backgrounds. Playing together, they have bonded as a team and as friends.
Led by Coach Ellen Rosa, the girls go through physical conditioning, basketball fundamentals, tactics and techniques, and prepare for competition. They work hard to improve their skills and excel on the court.
For many of the girls, sport provides a healthy outlet for the physical, emotional, mental and social transformations of adolescence. In puberty and adolescence, girls’ self-esteem drops twice as much as boys as their freedoms and opportunities diminish.
Sport helps them gain confidence in their strength and abilities, which they can then apply to overcome other challenges. When sport practice is combined with safe spaces and holistic life skills learning opportunities, it empowers girls and boosts their autonomy.
This is the premise of ‘One Win Leads to Another’, a joint programme by UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in partnership with Women Win, Bola Pra Frente, Instituto Agenda and Brazil’s National Olympic Committee, and supported by the Swedish Postcode Lottery Sport Foundation.
Every Wednesday, the basketball team takes one hour to participate in the life skill sessions of the programme. In a safe, fun and comfortable space, they meet a psychologist, Sara Santos, one of 50 programme facilitators.
For that hour, the girls learn how to better express themselves, confront gender inequalities and develop leadership skills. They also gain better understanding of their own bodies, get information on sexual and reproductive health, learn about ways to prevent violence and what to do should it occur.
During the sessions, the girls sit in circles exchanging ideas and opinions, and sharing intimate stories. Sara explains that one of her goals is to expand their concept of winning: “I want them to understand that being a winner is not just about winning a game, but also about taking the strength that sport gives them and applying it to life.”
The safe space also gave the team an opportunity to resolve a conflict between two of its members. “They had stopped talking to each other and wouldn’t even pass the ball during training. The team was cracked,” remembers Sara. During a session on good communications and conflict resolution, the team members talked about the situation. “The two girls chose to get past their differences, as the team and the sport were more important to them than their disagreement.”
Coach Ellen Rosa is proud of the girls and happy to see their friendship growing stronger. “They are trusting each other more than ever and that is improving their performance on the court. We’ve been getting closer since the programme started. The girls feel more comfortable to come to me when they need advice or face personal problems and I've learned how to talk to them about some of these issues.”
Using sport as a tool to reduce gender inequalities and develop self-esteem and life skills among adolescent girls, ‘One Win Leads to Another’ aims to reach 2,500 girls by early 2017 and is now active in almost 20 Olympic Villas in Rio de Janeiro.
Credit for all photos: UN Women/Gustavo Stephan