Sport paves the way for skills and jobs for young mothers in BrazilAfter empowering hundreds of girls and young mothers in poor communities across Rio de Janeiro, the joint programme by UN Women and International Olympic Committee enters its second phase
Last year, as 19-year-old Dayane Santos sat with her wriggling toddler, listening to facilitators present a new programme to empower young mothers in her community, her eyes lit up as she realized this was her ticket to get back on the volleyball court.
Santos had dropped out of school and left volleyball after her daughter was born and knew that opportunities were limited for her in Pedra de Guaratiba, one of the poorest communities in western Rio de Janeiro. Nearly one in five babies are born to Brazilian girls aged 19 and under leading to a staggeringly high school drop-out rate. Three-quarters of young mothers aged 15 to 17 were out of school in 2015.
Santos signed up for the programme that very day.
The “One Win Leads to Another” programme, jointly run by UN Women, the International Olympic Committee, Women Win and Brazilian NGO Empodera, builds self-esteem and economic empowerment for girls and young women via weekly life-skills training and sporting activities led by trained female facilitators. Funded by the Swedish Postcode Foundation, an adapted version of the curriculum was created to include young mothers’ specific needs, including on-site childcare during the sessions.
“At the programme, we had the opportunity to talk honestly about our lives as they currently are, after becoming a mother,” Santos explained. “The thing I learned the most was how to be myself again. I realized I could reconcile maternity with the other aspects of my life and I didn’t need to just stay at home”.
Outspoken and fearless, Santos also helped other girls learn sports fundamentals and speak their mind. Because of her interest and leadership qualities, she was invited to become a “Champion” and got the chance to co-facilitate sessions as a role model for younger girls.
One year into the programme, Santos has already finished high school, has a full-time job and is able to better negotiate time spent on childcare and housework with her partner. She plays volleyball twice a week in a community centre and wants to study radiology to become an ultrasound technician.
“The programme gave me the confidence to realize that I could do whatever I wanted,” she says.
Most of the 850 girls reached by the “One Win Leads to Another” programme in its pilot phase (from 2015 – 2017) and about a dozen young mothers who engaged with the programme last year have experienced similar, and significant, life changes.
Raphaela Barbosa Lacerda, who graduated from the programme in 2016 and participated in the International Day of the Girl Child celebrations at the United Nations in 2017, was recently hired by an international cosmetic company operating in Brazil as part of its research and innovation team.
“Participating in the One Win Leads to Another programme gave me maturity to face my problems, knowledge to express my ideas, and courage to fight for my dreams. It was one of the things that most helped me achieve what I want,” says Lacerda. She volunteers in her community regularly, coordinating meetings for teenagers from several churches, where she talks about girls’ empowerment. “I try to demonstrate to girls that we can do whatever we want, and to boys that we are not weaker or less than them in anything.”
Lacerda still finds time to play handball, practising twice a week at a community court. And, she wants to do more. While commuting to and from work—which takes almost three hours every day—she studies for university entrance exams.
“The programme is very effective in creating opportunities for girls who, historically, have had them denied,” says Jane Moura, President of Empodera, the programme’s implementing partner organization in Brazil.
The next phase of the programme, from 2018-2020, will focus on expanding and diversifying partnerships and strengthening the capacity of various institutions to deliver the curriculum. Nadine Gasman, UN Women Representative in Brazil, says the second phase will also build a Gender and Sports Network, composed of organizations with a common strategy, indicators, tools and measurement systems—to become a knowledge hub on sports programming for gender equality in Brazil. “It is the first of its kind in Brazil, with a huge potential for replication in other countries,” she says.
 DATASUS (2016). Brazilian Ministry of Health http://tabnet.datasus.gov.br/cgi/tabcgi.exe?sinasc/cnv/nvuf.def
 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD)(2013). https://biblioteca.ibge.gov.br/visualizacao/livros/liv94414.pdf (as cited in http://g1.globo.com/educacao/noticia/2015/03/no-brasil-75-das-adolescentes-que-tem-filhos-estao-fora-da-escola.html)