Sport: an outstanding tool for women’s empowerment

 

Sport is so much more than just a game or entertainment: it is a powerful tool for women’s empowerment. Sportswomen gain a foothold at home and in society by practising disciplines that are traditionally reserved for men.

As a universal, inspiring language that unites and brings people together, sport can transcend borders, cultures, beliefs and physical differences. The sports pitch becomes a space for self-empowerment, self-improvement and for sharing and forging social bonds.

Sport is also an excellent means of enhancing the value of women’s physical and mental abilities, boosting their self-confidence and independence, enabling them to assert their personalities, and developing their leadership skills in contexts where their bodies are often a social issue.

Despite the popularity and importance of sport in Africa, girls' and women's access to regular sports practice and to management positions in sports organisations is still very limited.

From an early age, girls’ primary and secondary school access and attendance rates in Africa are relatively low compared to those of boys; and yet, it is often in the school environment that young people discover physical education.
When they become teenagers, girls often face not only a lack of suitable facilities but also the preconceptions of parents, teachers and coaches.

One-off actions to promote women’s participation in sport in Africa, in particular through local clubs and in partnership with sports federations, have so far had relatively limited impact.

The Sport en Commun platform regularly promotes initiatives to develop women’s sport and assists project managers in their search for funding.

 

In the footsteps of champions

These sportswomen, past and present, have had glittering careers. They are a source of inspiration for many women and now they are rising to meet new challenges.

Find out more about the groundbreaking projects supported by these sporting champions who have displayed their commitment both on and off the field.

 

Tegla Loroupe (athletics)
Tegla Loroupe (athletics)

« There are no limits in sport… It connects people all the world over independently from race, religion, ethnic group or gender. Experiencing the power of sport in building peace cannot be described. »

A native of the West-African mountainous area of Pokot, Tegla Loroupe is a former athlete who was considered as the fastest woman in the world in long distances in the late 1990s. Born in May 1973 in a family of 24 brothers and sisters, Tegla would everyday run 18 km to get to school on naked feet. Aged 13, she was selected in the Kenyan national team of athletics, the beginning of a fabulous career. A marathon specialist, she is still the holder of several world records, medals and rewards.  

She was the first African woman to win the prestigious New York marathon, a contest she has won twice. The world champion still holds world records on 20, 25 and 30 kilometres. She is a three-time world champion of half-marathon. After running on the field tracks of such big cities as London, Boston, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Rome, among others, she has become an icon in the world of athletics and thus arouses respect and admiration. Her personal experience has turned her into a model for women and girls. 

In 2003, the champion started the « Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation » and put her notoriety in the service of Peace and Africa. The mission of the foundation is to create peaceful coexistence between the warring communities in the North of Kenya, the South of Sudan, the North-East of Uganda, Ethiopia and some other areas of tensions on the African continent. She has succeeded in gathering the warring tribesmen through various initiatives such as the « Tegla Loroupe Peace Race », (a 10-km race for peace), or the rehabilitation programme for reformed warriors. The 2006 edition of the race included 2,000 warriors from six different tribes. The main motivation of the race was to make of sport a factor that unifies and contributes to greater harmony.

To popularise her actions and garner more impact on her environment, she has been relying on education in her Centre for Education and Peace in favour of orphans and vulnerable girls. She has also been involved in the cause of refugees. She has hosted over two dozen athlete refugees in her training centre as well as prepared the international competitions. 

Tegla Loroupe is a member of the Club of Peace Champions, a 100-strong collective of high level athletes set up by Peace and Sport, an international organisation in Monaco aiming at building lasting peace thanks to sport. After Rio 2016, she was again appointed «Head of Mission» of the Refugee Team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (put off till 2021).

Credit : Tegla Loroupe
Laurence Fischer (karate)
Laurence Fischer (karate)

« Sport puts the bodies of young girls and women victims of wartime rapes at the centre of a process of resilience. »

Born in a family of avid sport fans, Laurence Fischer started her career in 1995 at the age of 12 with her father’s encouragement. Reserved and shy by nature, she has used karate as a means of self-expression and socialization. Her sporting career didn’t stop her from furthering her studies. Besides winning two world titles and four European titles individually, she passed the entrance examination to ESSEC in 2003. She went to the Paris Area to follow a three-year course. She obtained a Master of Science in Management from the International Sports Marketing Chair. 

Whether you look at her sporting or humanitarian commitment, Laurence Fischer is an all-category champion. Discipline, pushing oneself to the limits as taught by her father, a karate enthusiast and her exceptional potential have caused her to familiarise with the summits of the world. Her 11-year career has been rewarded with gold medals: 3 world titles (two individually and one as a team), 7 European titles and 11 consecutive national titles. In the last year of her course and her international career in 2006, Laurence won all the major competitions of her category: the Paris Open, the France championships, the Europe championships and the world championships. 

In 2014, she travelled to the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Panzi Foundation and the national team to « use karate and heal » the psychological and physical wounds of women left to their fate. To officialise and perpetuate her action, the triple world champion decided to set up « Fight For Dignity » Foundation in 2017. Laurence uses the practice of sport to put the bodies of young girls and women victims of wartime rapes at the centre of a process of resilience. She said: « We offer them some karate sessions for self- defence, but the idea is above all to help them appropriate their bodies. Crying out while hitting enables them to release their anger, their shame, everything they have been keeping deep inside themselves. ». The retired young champion transmits without restraint to the women victims of violence her mental strength acquired after years of practice and competitions. Her mission is to duplicate this model of engagement in several countries, in Africa notably.

Working under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that of the Ministry of Sports, Laurence Fischer is currently an ambassador of the Paris 2024 Olympics with the mission of making French sport shine on all the continents.

Credit : Fight For Dignity
Nawal El Moutawakel (athletics)
Nawal El Moutawakel (athletics)

« Sport plays an efficient role in the social integration of the young and helps consolidate values of excellence, respect and friendship (…) It is paramount to protect youngsters’ health and encourage them to lead a healthy and active lifestyle »

Born in April 1962 and an athlete from Morocco, Nawal El Moutawakel began her sporting career in 1978 and started shining out on an international plan in 1982 by winning two gold medals (the 100m hurdles and the 400m hurdles) at the African Championships in Cairo. Her Olympic success has earned her an immediate recognition in her country and she has quickly become an icon and a source of inspiration who has sparked off the beginning of the Moroccan woman’s emancipation. 

Her prestigious career is fraught with medals and awards on account of her performances. She won the 400 metres hurdles’ gold medals at the Mediterranean Games in 1983 and in 1987, at the African Championships in 1982, 1984 and 1985, and at the World University Games in 1987. Her biggest achievement is her Olympic title in 400 metres hurdles at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984, because it was unequalled in the history of Moroccan athletics, whatever the gender. In 1989, she started work as a coach after obtaining a Master’s degree of Science, major physical education from the American University of Iowa.

Involved in the Moroccan government, she was an inspector at the Ministry of Youth and Sports (1989-1997), the Secretary of State to the Minister of Social Affairs, in charge of Youth and Sports (1997-1998) and the Minister of Youth and Sports (2007-2009). A member of various committees within the IOC, she was appointed president of the IOC’s evaluation committee for the 2012 Olympic Games. That same year, she became the first woman from a Moslem nation to be elected Vice President of the International Olympic Committee. She was dubbed a Knight of the National Order of the Lion by the Senegalese President Abdou Diouf (1998) and obtained the Legion of Honour from the French President François Hollande in 2015. 

Nawel is a founding member of the « Laureus World Sports Academy » and is famous in the sporting world for her dedication and her commitment in the fight for women’s rights in sport and for the social integration of the young. She is among the coordinators of the 2022 Youth Olympic Games. 

Credit : Laureus
Nantenin Keïta (athletics)
Nantenin Keïta (athletics)

« Difference has always been part of my life, she told the assembly. I am an albino and a visibly-impaired woman. But at the Olympic Games, I am an athlete. Because at the Games, there will be as many countries as handicaps. At the Olympic Games, difference matters. At the Olympic Games, difference is strength. »

Born in November 1984, Nantenin Keita is a Malian-born French athlete who competes at the paralympics’ category owing to a significant visual impairment. Holding a Higher Technical Diploma in marketing campaigning and a bachelor in the sciences of education, she has been working as a human resource assistant for the Malakoff Mederic Group. 

Nantenin Keïta has unceasingly been accumulating medals and trophies all along her career. The physically-impaired 400 metre world champion in 2006 and in 2015, Nantenin has also won bronze medals twice at the Summer Paralympics, on 400 metres in 2008 and on 100m in 2012, respectively. In September 2016 in Rio, Nantenin gave France its seventh medal by snatching off gold on 400 metres during the Paralympics in Rio. 

She has been dubbed Officer of the National Order of Merit and Knight of the Legion of Honour respectively in 2008 and in 2016 by the President of France.

With support from her father, the famous singer Salif Keita, Nantenin leads in the distance the management team of Salif Keita’s Foundation based in Bamako. The foundation fights for the recognition of the rights of albino children. It aims at improving children’s living conditions in general and albino children in particular so as to guarantee their emancipation and their socio-professional insertion. The fight has led today to the distribution of over 50,000 solar cream tubes to the albinos of Mali and Guinea but also to the payment of ophthalmologic and dermatologic consultation fees. 

The foundation is also responsible for fundraising in favour of the Malian Albino Children’s Education and Training Centre (CEFEA), a centre for information, advice, total and free access to education and vocational training for albino teenage children and adults. 

The discreet woman in her thirties is an ambassador of the rights of persons with albinism. When participating in the Olympic Games in Lima in 2017, she stood for the rights of persons with a handicap and expressed her belief that difference is strength to exploit. She says that her fight consists in promoting the insertion of persons with a handicap as well as their professional development all along their career. 

Credit : Charlie Crowhurst
Clémentine Natogoman Touré (football)
Clémentine Natogoman Touré (football)

 «The press and public opinion rejected me immediately. I was supposedly too young and inexperienced … In other words, I was a woman! I left and undertook to become a great coach and prove to the whole world that a woman could make it. »

After an honourable career as a player in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, including 22 selections with the Ivorian national team between 1995 and 2002, Clémentine Natogoman Touré decided to dog her father’s steps and become a coach. A certified physical education teacher working for the Directorate of Top-level Sports at the Ivorian Ministry of Sports, Clémentine is holding a CAF licence A from the Football National Technique Centre in Bingerville, which is the highest qualification a coach can obtain in Côte d’Ivoire. Once qualified, she became the coach of the Ivorian club of Kumasi’s Amazons. In 2006, she was chosen to manage the Ivorian national women’s team; an appointment that unfortunately ran short since she was found to be « young and inexperienced».

A few months later, she was chosen to coach the team of Equatorial Guinea,  Aguilas Verdes.  After a successful championship, she was upgraded at the head of the National Team of Equatorial Guinea and won the 2008 Women’s African Championship. Then entrusted with the Ivorian National Team, she helped the girls to pass the qualifying matches under her leadership and have their first continental matches in. She unexpectedly finished third qualifying for the 2012 Football Women’s World Cup. After two African competitions, she led the Ivorian National Team to the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. She won a silver medal at the second edition of the 2019 WAFU B Women’s Championship coaching the same Ivorian team.

Her professionalism and her actions for the promotion of women’s football in Africa have been widely recognized. Showing strong commitment whenever she has to defend women’s place in high-performance sports notably in football, Clémentine has been appointed a FIFA Permanent Instructor. Her role is to promote the development of football on the African continent. The programmes cover a wide range of topics, including local football, training the young, the championships and the competitions, executive development and expertise. 

Serena Williams (tennis)
Serena Williams (tennis)

« My mission is to support the individuals or communities affected by senseless violence and to guarantee an easy access to education to the children. »

Born on 26 September 1981 in Saginaw in the State of Michigan, Serena Williams grew up in a suburban family of Los Angeles where her father encourages her to take up tennis besides her sister Venus, who has also become a top-ranking player. having a style of play based on very powerful services and bottom-court hits, she held the first world player ranking for 186 consecutive weeks between 2013 and 2016, an achievement only matched by Steffi Graf in 1987.

In the professional circuit since 1995, Serena Williams has, to date, one the best rankings of world tennis. She has won 39 Grand Slam titles as an individual and as a team, breaking down into 7 Australian Open titles, 3 Roland-Garros titles, 7 Wimbledon titles and 6 US Open single titles, 4 Australian Open titles, 2 Roland-Garros titles, 6 Wimbledon titles and 2 US Open ladies doubles with her sister Venus Williams and 1 Wimbledon and 1 US Open mixed doubles. All these achievements have caused her to be the first player in history to have won both singles and doubles in her career. Winning gold four times at the Olympic Games, Serena is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. 

Off the tennis courts, Serena Williams promotes gender equity and upgraded educational environments through her foundation « Serena Williams Funds ». She says her mission is to help the individuals or communities affected by senseless violence and to secure equal access to education to the young. The world champion has carried out some exceptional missions using her own resources and building partnerships with other foundations dedicated to providing and upgrading education for the persons in need or for people in developing countries. She has worked with Helping Hands Jamaica to help build a new primary school called Salt Marsh Primary School. Her commitment has been total since she has participated in building the school by hammering nails inside and painting the walls herself.  

Still as part of her charitable works, Serena has also built schools in other countries, notably in Uganda, Zimbabwe and in Jamaica. Today, she uses her various platforms to promote women’s empowerment. An icon in the sports world and a role model, she has used her own experience to free the women’s voices about pregnancy and motherhood in sport.

Gwladys Epangue (taekwondo)
Gwladys Epangue (taekwondo)

« I passionately support the IOC’s standpoint for total equality between men and women in the field of sport, just like in the management and governing bodies. »

From Cameroon, Gwladys Patience Epangue was born on 15 August 1983 in Clichy and started practicing taekwondo in 1994 at the age of 11 in the local club of Courneuve. The athlete’s childhood, the third of five brothers and sisters, is characterised by the emblem of martial arts in the world, Bruce Lee. In 1997, she became vice-champion of France in the cadet category and furthers her studies at INSEP (National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance). Because of her skills, she largely dominated the sport in France and was selected for the first time to the 2004 Olympic Games of Athens.

Winning bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, double champion of the world and triple vice-champion of the world, Gwladys Epangue can also list in her achievements three world silver medals, seven European medals breaking down into three titles at the Championships of Europe, and fifteen titles as champion of France. Gwladys stopped her career on 29 November 2016, aged 33.

The world champion has shown that taekwondo is not only fighting on the tatami mat. Immediately after her retirement, she was entrusted with Communication in the French Federation of Taekwondo in order to help the sport shine both nationally and internationally. Her commitment is focused on gender equality in the sporting world. Taking sport as one of the gateways to gender equality, she asserts « It is important to give the young girls the desire to practise, because even if in the future they fail to become top-level athletes, nothing can stop them from becoming high-level leaders ». Thanks to the actions she carried out in the federation, the latter has undertaken to reach perfect gender equality for the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

Head of mission of the French delegation at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, she is a member of the athletes’ committee, a body of 18 sportspeople presided over by Martin Fourcade who has been preparing the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. 

Credit : Gwladys Epangue
Siraba Dembélé (handball)
Siraba Dembélé (handball)

« My objective with SolidAfrique is to put together everybody’s skills and competences to facilitate charities on the African continent. »

Born in a Malian family of four brothers and three sisters, Siraba Dembélé is a French international handball player playing as a left winger. Born in June 1986, she discovered the sport in 1996 while accompanying her elder sister Kamion to training. That was where, for the first time, she wore an HBC Vallée d’Avre shirt. When she was 15, she joined Dreux AC Club before she was recruited by Mérignac Club in 2004. At only 18 years of age, Siraba started in first division and scored 18 goals during that season of apprenticeship. She took part in the 2006 European championship and won the bronze medal with France. Siraba had not played in high performance handball until her first selection in the national team on 26 May 2006 against Turkey. She then decided to stop her public accountant’s studies and focused on her career as a professional handballer. 

That was the beginning of a powerful upswing. She was appointed Most Valuable Player of the French championship in 2011, five times the best left winger of the French Championship from 2008 to 2012 and twice best left winger of the Champions League in 2015 and 2018. As part of Team France, she was notably Olympic Vice-Champion in 2016 and obtained the Knight of the National Order of Merit distinction. She became Champion of the World in 2017 then Champion of Europe a year later. As the Capitain of the National Team, Sira is, at 33, the handball player with the most titles in the history of Women’s Team France with 5 medals in her list of achievements. In 2019, the former Saint-Lubin-des-Joncherets en Eure-et-Loire‘s Condorcet gymnasium was renamed after her as an homage. 

Active off the courts, Siraba has undertaken to assist young Africans à through her Foundation, SolidAfrique whose charitable actions are mainly geared towards poorer populations’ education and access to health. Siraba would like to encourage the building of clinics, schools, orphanages in partnership with private companies, local communities and high-performance sportspeople. So is her ambition to help find logistical, financial, and first of all moral support for the associations needing to carry out their humanitarian projects in Africa and in particuliar in Mali. Auctions, gifts, patronages, solidarity concerts, material recovery are the levers that SolidAfrique intends to operate.

Credit : France 24
Djatougbe Nathalie Noameshie (volleyball)
Djatougbe Nathalie Noameshie (volleyball)

« In life, you must set yourself objectives and work hard to reach them with a healthy dose of goodwill and courage. Because with motivation, comes goodwill and with determination, courage. »

A former professional  volleyball  player now, Nathalie Noameshie first joined Lomé’s Etoile Filante Club as a Centre and then the university team with which she contested the Accra 1999 University Games. Enthusiastic and committed, she was recognised to be the Best Centre in Lomé 2003 and obtained a selection in the national team in 2004 for the Francophony and Solidarity International Tournament. She became a  volley-ball referee in 2004 after passing the « International Referee Candidates Course (Ircc) » in Tunis in November 2004. 

Ever since, Nathalie has continued to climb up the scales of the sporting world. A former professional player of the volleyball national team, she became the first female international volleyball referee fully qualified in Africa in 2008. She was afterwards promoted to the position of Vice-President of Togo’s National Olympic Committee. In 2010, she received the Big Prize of Female Excellence, « Hoinyigan » from AFRIMUSE, an artistic and cultural organisation, specializing in the promotion of the Togolese and African woman. She completed a Master’s degree in International Business in 2013 with a Major in International Marketing and Networks. A member of the Association of African Olympic National Committees’ Women and Sport Committee thanks to her expertise and commitment, she is currently the Assistant Director of CONFEJES in Dakar. 

To train women leaders in the future, Nathalie has set up a sporting project called «Young Girl Leader through Sport and the Development of Women’s Volleyball ». Her objective is to transmit the message about the values of the Olympic spirit, of excellence, respect, and friendship as well as to instil in them the culture of the sporting practice which is going to build their self-confidence, determination and courage. A winner of the 2019 «Women and Sport » IOC Trophy for Africa, Natalie wishes to transmit to the new generation her knowledge and experience as a former volleyball player. 

Credit : Togo Presse