Use Sports for Economic and Gender Empowerment

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Use Sports for Economic and Gender Empowerment

Sharon Smith (centre), Senior Manager, Jamaica National Building Society, poses with members of the victorious Sunshine Girls squad which defeated England Roses 2-1 in the Vitality International Netball Test Series in from November to December. Smith says the country can gain economically if people revise the way they view women’s sports.

Sharon Smith, senior manager, Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), says that it is time for Jamaica to use sports as a tool for economic and gender empowerment.

She was celebrating with the Sunshine Girls, following their 2-1 victory over England in the Vitality International Test Series in England earlier this month at an event organised by Netball Jamaica, on the campus of The University of the West Indies, recently (December 15).

Ms Smith underscored that the Sunshine Girls’ victory brought home the need for greater investment and development of sports, such as netball, in which Jamaica has a competitive advantage, at the international level.

“As a country, we should be at the stage to accept sports that has real economic muscle, which can provide ‘growth and jobs,’ not only for men, but also our women,” she urged, highlighting the high level of unemployment for women.

According to figures from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica women make up close to 60 per cent of the unemployed labour force.

“We, therefore, need to increase the opportunities for our women, who need to grow up knowing that there are careers they can pursue beyond the traditional. And, demonstrate that a career in sports, such as netball, is a real possibility,” the JNBS Senior Manager and licenced pension adviser said.

She also pointed to countries, such as Australia, where netball was treated almost on par with other sports, providing opportunities to professional female athletes.

Reflecting on two young women who could have become professional athletes, Ms Smith argued that Jamaicans maintain a narrow view of the types of careers women can pursue.
She noted that in both young women’s cases- one an employee at JN who plays netball, and the other from a Corporate Area-based primary school- that neither of them were able to pursue careers in sports because of the lack of professional leagues for women and the perceptions of women in sports.

“The young girl’s hopes were dashed when the principal of her school simply told her that sports was not for young ladies. That youngster at about age 13 ended up pregnant and out of school,” Ms Smith recounted. “We need to get past this narrow view and embrace the skill and talent of our young women.”

She noted that although Jamaica achieved gender parity in some spheres, pointing to some corporate companies where many senior positions were held by women, there was need for parity in areas, such as sports.

“The excuse that female sports, such as netball, does not garner the attention other male dominated sports attract is one we must challenge,” she insisted.

“If we want to build and grow the sports in which women participate; then, we must treat them similarly to male dominated activities,” Ms Smith emphasised. “We must give netball similar airtime; and sow the perception early in children’s minds that a career in sports for both boys and girls is possible and meaningful; then, overtime, I believe netball for women will garner similar interest and popularity as men’s sports.”

Outlining the economic advantages to be gained from investing in women’s sports, Ms Smith said changing the perception of female sports could broaden the female fan base from which funds could be earned given women’s role in consumption.

She also indicated that the country had a particular advantage in netball, with the Sunshine Girls consistently ranking third or fourth in the world, even without the kind of financial support other netball teams around the world enjoy.

“Imagine the revenue that could be made from merchandising. The sale of apparel and paraphernalia, because every girl wants to become a Sunshine Girl. Imagine that,” she said, to loud applause.

“The jobs that would be created–from agents to nutritionists; designers, event planners, administrators and club managers; and most of all professional athletes. Jobs in sports can stimulate a multiplier effect on any economy which takes it seriously,” Ms Smith advised, noting that sports builds brands reputation and identity.

She concluded: “There is much to gain, if we but simply revise the way we think about women in sports.”

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