Sport can lead the way for young women everywhere
Do you have your own special space where you feel free? When I'm in the pool it’s 'Becky’s World' and no matter what is going on around me, I can just be myself. And in Zambia I visited a place where women - against all odds - can also be free to be themselves.
Handling expectation is something I've had to learn to deal with in and out of the pool, but I know that the resilience you build through sport can help in other parts of your life. In Zambia girls are expected to grow up to be a mother or a housewife, but they are now also being given the chance to challenge these expectations through sport.
In Zambia I visited a programme called 'Go Sisters' where I saw young women organise football, volleyball and netball matches for each other. Like I did through swimming, the sport was helping close friendships to be made, so it was nice that I was able to visit Go Sisters with two of my swimming friends - gold medallists Jo Jackson and Mel Marshall.
Rebecca in the pool with girls from the Go Sisters programme. Picture: Mel Paramasivan
Together we got involved in all the sport that was happening and heard from some of the girls about how sport has changed their lives. Linda Schcinda, one of the Go Sisters working on the programme said, "One of the main reasons we use sport is so that we can attract all these participants and impart different skills in them."
The girls enjoying their time. Picture: Mel Paramasivan
It’s true. Sport can bring people from all walks of life together. You only have to look at the Olympics and Paralympics to see how a whole country can be united by sport. The opportunity to learn new skills is true also. As a swimmer I've learned not just technical skills, but also how to communicate, be disciplined and always give everything I've got.The girls we saw were giving it their all. Even though some were looking after families at home or came from poor backgrounds, they made time to organise activities and teach girls about the importance of leading their own lives.
Female leaders in sport or any other field have a lot to teach to us. Jo and Mel are two people who are just so inspiring and have had an amazing impact in women’s swimming. The three of us were lucky to find swimming clubs when we started competing but for girls in Zambia it is not always easy to find a girls' football or volleyball club. Go Sisters makes sure that all girls have access to this by organising activities in schools and communities.
Go Sisters also trains 'peer leaders' who reach out within the community to encourage others girls to start playing sport as well as using sport to increase self-esteem and teach about issues like HIV/AIDS. Linda Schcinda said: "Girls have gone through Go Sisters and become recognised in their school and community and because of this, they have been linked to school or study scholarships."
Girls fromGo Sisters playing a netball match. Picture: Mel Paramasivan
For Linda, joining Go Sisters means that sport has become her career and it is opening up a world of opportunity for her, just as swimming has done for me. The opportunities I have had are beyond those I had dreamed of as an 11 year old in the pool.
Regardless of whether these women become Olympians or not, they are inspiring other young women in their community to get out there and use sport to change their lives. The doors for women are opening around the world and whether in the UK or Zambia, women are building new futures.
"Go Sisters" is an EduSport initiative aimed at empowering girls by training and equipping them with skills and knowledge to pursue equality. It strives to empower girls by building physical resources, giving social recognition and challenging some traditional gender myths. Young girls are enrolled in sports programs where some of them are trained to become Youth Peer Leaders who are in charge of facilitating their groups' sports and life skills activities.
The programme is managed by International Development through Sport (IDS) the charity partner of UK Sport. For more information visit: www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/ids/
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DFID or have the support of the British Government.