Girls and young women in developing countries often face two severe obstacles when growing up: child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Although it is often perceived to be a girl’s destiny, becoming a wife and a mother at such a young age has major consequences. In Latin America, where machismo prevails, girls believe that early marriage and pregnancy are the only way to escape poverty and violence at home. However, this often turns out to be a continuation of an already negative cycle of events, as marriage and motherhood tend to limit girls’ development even more.
Teenage pregnancy and child marriage pose serious health risks, with unsafe abortions and complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth being some of the leading causes of death among girls aged 15 to 19. This not only affects the individual in question; it trickles straight down to the next generation, with families, communities and even entire nations remaining trapped in a cycle of poverty and gender inequality. Teenage pregnancies are more likely in poor, uneducated and rural communities – exactly the kinds of community that Plan works in.
La League project aims to empower adolescent girls and their male peers in Nicaragua with a view to preventing teenage pregnancies and delaying marriage. One of the methods used consists of involving fathers and boys in efforts to achieve equal rights and freedoms for girls. This makes football the ideal vehicle for this project, as a male-dominated arena is exactly what is needed. Football can have a powerful impact in terms of changing gender roles and raising awareness regarding the negative impact of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
Plan has, in cooperation with the Johan Cruyff Foundation and Women Win, established an effective model empowering adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 20 to decide for themselves whether, when and whom to marry, and whether, when and with whom to have children. At the heart of this project lies football, with the organisers encouraging girls to play the game and turn talented players into professional football heroes, and at the same time encouraging fathers and male role models to support their girls – not only when it comes to football, but also in other more important life choices. Thus, football is used to transform gender norms and raise awareness regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
With the support of the UEFA Foundation for Children, this project will now be rolled out in Nicaragua, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America.
Girls’ football lies at the very heart of Plan’s methodology. Football is used to empower girls and make them more visible to fathers and boys, who then get involved in efforts to achieve equal rights and freedoms for girls, helping to prevent teenage pregnancies and child marriages. This method consists of three different pathways:
- Social empowerment of girls through football
The goal is to motivate girls to play football and experience teamwork, helping them to increase their self-confidence and boosting their knowledge of sexual and reproductive rights.
- Involvement of fathers and other male role models
In order to transform gender norms and raise awareness, boys and fathers will be encouraged to support their girls – not only when it comes to football, but also in other more important life choices.
- Economic empowerment of girls through the creation of job opportunities in football
This project seeks to create jobs and other income-producing opportunities in the world of football or related domains, so that girls can, for example, become coaches or gain access to scholarships in order to pursue playing careers.
Plan of action:
- Conduct a baseline study looking at the incidence of teenage pregnancy and child marriage.
- Develop didactic material and train trainers.
- Engage with local government in order to turn municipal sports courts into safe spaces for girls.
- Conduct two media training sessions for 20 youth reporters.
- Help girls and boys (of the same age) to organise events raising awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
- Involve 150 fathers, brothers and other male figures in girls’ football activities.
- Teach 40 girls leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
- Produce a video documentary on the impact of girls’ football in Nicaragua.
Awareness regarding the negative effects of teenage pregnancy and child marriage will increase significantly. Girls and boys will both learn about how they can prevent early pregnancy and marriage.
- 300 girls will attend Champions of Change football training.
- 20 girls’ football teams will be established in 10 different communities.
- 150 boys will be trained as Champions of Change.
- 10 girls and 10 boys will become youth reporters and cover the La League project.
- 4,500 peers will be in contact with Champions of Change through peer-to-peer events.
- 150 fathers/male role models will be actively involved in their girls’ football activities, supporting them in their SRHR decisions.
- 300 members of the community will be committed to improving gender equality in their daily lives.
- 40 girls will learn leadership/entrepreneurial skills and have access to football-related jobs (such as coaching).
- 4 talented girls will have access to sports scholarships.