By Mariah Philips
It is another dark morning, 4:30 a.m., when I force my feet out of bed and onto the cold hardwood floor. It is time for softball practice and, before that, the pre-practice heating pad that will loosen up my shoulder so I can throw and bat.
It takes discipline to wake up in the dark, to rise despite aches and pains, to put in two hours of physical work before a day of classes. But it is a learned discipline that comes from years of training cultivated through my participation in sports. The willingness to rise, to push, to work, has shaped my values, (discipline being one of them) and equipped me for the rigors of the adult world.
Such lessons are not mine alone. But for girls in some parts of the world, access to athletics is fraught with obstacles.
In her March policy brief, “Women, Sports, and Development: Does it Pay to Let Girls Play?” author Barbara Kotschwar, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argues that skills gained through athletics offers women in developing countries tools to advance their own and their countries’ economic well-being.
The problem, observes Kotschwar, is that girls in developing nations face barriers, including “the persistence of strictly enforced gender roles and legal and cultural restrictions on movement.”
In India, although wrestler Sonika Kaliraman and tennis player Sania Mirza are raising the profile of female athletes, few girls play sports because they lack family support and it has not been part of the cultural tradition. “Because women have not commonly participated in sports in the past, girls face criticism for wanting to do so.”
In other countries, they lack access to equipment, training, facilities or, as Diana Barakzai, captaining of the Afghani women’s cricket team, observes, women “are victims of unacceptable rules that prevented them from leaving the house.”
If sports can make stronger leaders and foster economic independence and stability among individuals – as Kotschwar’s analysis of research argues – then how can that not breed economic independence and stability for developing nations? Doesn’t it just make good sense, she points out, to consider athletic opportunities as a piece of nation-building?
Difficult as it is to roll out of bed at 4:30 a.m., more young women need that chance.