(Olive Branch) Women who practice a sport claim that sports give them better health and raise their self-esteem. And studies have shown that sports can empower women.

Photo by Emily Morales

Lakshi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations says that sports teach leadership and how to think strategically, plus raise a women’s self-esteem. And Maria Bobenreith, founder of Women Win, an organization to promote sports for women, says that praticing a sport shows that women can be ‘feminine’ and strong mentally and physically and that women feel free and capable of achieving their goals.

An article published by the International Olympic Committee says that sports are a tool for empowering women because they develop capabilities to make changes and they challenge the stereotype of the passive, dependent women.

Sports can be in a team or individual such as swimming, hiking, or cycling. A sport can be competitive or for relaxation. Zumba and aerobics are also sports in that they give women strength and self-esteem.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

In a project by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF or LIMPAL in Spanish) we spoke with women of different ages and sports. We met women over 60 swimming and doing aerobics and mothers who play on soccer teams and ride mountain bikes. Meche, 32 years old, began with aerobics to overcome depression, which led her to zumba. Now she leads zumba classes around Alajuela and Heredia. She says it changed her life physically and spiritually and she sees that women in her classes gain confidence, become more independent and form friendships through zumba.

In our study, we also found that most of the women who practice a sport as adults were active or into sports as girls. For that reason, it is important that girls be encouraged to take up sports or activities at a young age in both urban and rural areas, through the school, or community association, for good health and to develop abilities, to become more self-sufficient. It is also a means of combatting obesity in girls and young women.

Today women have more opportunities for sports through private or public programs. In Costa Rica each cantón has a sports complex or Polideportivo which is open to the public and includes track, swimming, tennis, playing fields and aerobics. Some have gymnasium equipment.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

Private programs offer martial arts and fencing, gyms, zumba. Surf and soccer are popular with women too. Women athletes from Costa Rica have done very well in the world and regional competitions, in boxing, track, fencing, and soccer and Costa Rican women participate in international marathons and sports events.

But sports programs for women need support. Where are the soccer fields and dressing rooms for women’s games, practice and tournaments? Where is the publicity to show their efforts and encourage more women and girls to join in? Where are the sponsors to fund uniforms and travel expenses? Where are the announcements of women’s events?

Costa Rica has dozens of sports programs on radio and television. Men’s sports. They reported the results and schedules of the American Cup, the Champion’s League, European and Latin American games, but reported not a word about the Women’s World Cup recently held in France.

Photo by Mitzi Stark

Sports programs and the sports pages of the newspapers give little space to women’s sports, and then only if she has won a major event or a championship. On most days there is no coverage of women in sports. Everyone here recognizes the name of Kaylor Navas but few can identify Shirley Cruz even though their careers are equal.|

It is important that women and girls are encouraged to join in sports programs or to take up a sport on their own. It is important that there are recreational parks, community halls, playing fields available for women, and for girls to be able to play ball, ride bikes, run and jump rope.

Women and girls need the same opportunities in sports as men and boys.

It is important that all those sports pages in newspapers and all those sports programs on radio and TV give some daily space to women’s sports, and that municipalities and community associations give equal time and space for women’s sports as for men’s. And it is important that world and regional events featuring women’s sports be given the same publicity as men’s events. Because strong capable women (and girls) are not likely to become victims of abuse, harassment and violence.

WILPF is an international organization to promote peace and justice and gender equality. The Costa Rican section was founded in 1981. Contact us at peacewomen@gmail.com.