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Sitting Down with Olympian Lorrie Fair: Reflections on Afghanistan

Tue, Dec 4, 2012

Human Rights

A BLOG POST BY STEPHENIE FOSTER

U.S. Sports Diplomacy Envoy, Olympian and World Cup Champion Lorrie Fair visited Kabul, Afghanistan over Thanksgiving to show her support for Afghan women, and particularly Afghan women athletes, who face cultural, economic and security challenges but are dedicated to their sport. While in Afghanistan, Fair hosted sports clinics and discussions to highlight the valuable skills athletes learn through sports such as teamwork, leadership and determination. She worked with the Afghan Women’s National Soccer team, as well as the Afghan Women’s National Basketball team, and spoke to a class at the American University of Afghanistan on the role sport plays in leadership for women.

I interviewed her as she was departing Kabul to return to the U.S.

Let’s start with the basics. Why is it important for women and girls to participate in sports?

Sports are a part of education, and they provide both girls and boys with the opportunity to develop skills that are important in life. Aside from the obvious physical skills developed from participation in sport, children also learn skills such as team work, leadership, overcoming adversity, being a humble winner and a gracious loser. Being part of a team is especially important for young girls as it can often influence and shape their lives. Studies show that when young women and girls participate in sports, they are more likely to stay in school, which may have an ultimate impact on their ability to be employed and be self-sufficient. Sports are about more than the game being played.

You’ve been in Kabul for several days. What are your impressions of the women athletes you’ve met and worked with here?

The Afghan women athletes I worked with at the sports clinics aren’t much different than young women I have played with all over the world in that they are passionate about soccer, and it is easy to observe that they are all capable, strong, ambitious female athletes. All they want is to have the right to participate in sports and have a socially safe environment to do so.

With that said, these women have overcome many challenges to be able to play soccer and are truly an inspiration. I see them as the pioneers of women’s sports in Afghanistan. It takes courage to pick up a soccer ball and play despite the possibility of threats or harm to themselves or their families. They have done just that and they stand together and support each other to be able to play.

People talk a lot about sports diplomacy. Why is it important?

When I first started working with young people around the world, I didn’t really see it as diplomacy. I only knew that sport is universal and transcends boundaries. Sport breaks down barriers in so many ways, barriers based on gender, religion, culture, nationality, and helps us gain an appreciation for each other as human beings. I was working with young people in North Africa, and one of the boys said that what impressed him the most was how the Americans treated them as equals. At that moment, I realized that sport can shatter stereotypes and destroy anything that serves to divide us as a human race.

How can sports convey values?

There are so many inherent values in sports that can be used in all aspects of life. The game itself is only a small part. Physical health and exercise, discipline, leadership, courage, goal-setting, dealing with adversity, coping with loss, overcoming failure, pushing mental and physical limits, listening and working with others, being a game changer, breaking gender norms, peacemaking… I can go on forever. Here in Kabul, one of the messages that I hoped to convey to these incredible women is that we will continue to support Afghanistan and the Afghan women in their educational and human rights goals from a civilian perspective before, during and after the military draws down. My short time in Afghanistan has been incredible and I have learned so much from this experience. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.

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Women, Peace and Security – UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Women, Peace and Security 

 

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was the first of its kind to specifically address the unique impact of conflict on women, and women’s important contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. Passed in 2000, it marked a watershed moment when the international community formally recognized the integral role of women and gender to peace and security. UNSCR 1325 has remained an essential tool for encouraging governments to fulfill their obligations to ensure women are included as agents for peace and security in all processes, and its framework has inspired further action by the UN and civil societies and governments around the world to mainstream gender into their work on conflict resolution.

 

Following UNSCR 1325, subsequent Security Council Resolutions further defined the importance of women’s roles in conflict and peacebuilding. Resolutions 1820, passed in 2008, and 1888, passed in 2009,  recognize sexual violence as an issue of international peace and security and reiterate the need for a comprehensive response to sexual and gender-based violence. In 2010, Resolution 1960 created specific steps needed for the prevention of sexual violence, and Resolution 2106 in 2013 looked specifically at accountability for crimes of sexual violence. The most recent resolution on women, peace and security, UNSCR 2122, aims to strengthen measures to improve the participation of women in all phases of conflict resolution and prevention.

 

UNSCR 1325 and successive Resolutions are an important show of international support that ensure women, peace and security are on the agenda for international organizations and governments across the globe, but there are many steps between the passage of such resolutions and their full implementation on the ground.  One tool that helps bridge this gap are National Action Plans(NAPs), written plans that specify how a country will mainstream gender, and the principles of 1325 into its defense, development and diplomatic activities. Over 36 countries in the world have drafted NAPs, and that number is growing every year.

 

In addition to government- and UN-level documents and programs, it is important to consider the work women do in more informal, Track II diplomatic and peace negotiations. Around the world, women are active as civil society leaders, and in many cases, such as Liberia, Northern Ireland and the Philippines, their grassroots work has played a major role in peace processes.

 

For more resources on women, peace and security, visit The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and SecurityPeaceWomenUSIP, and The Institute for Inclusive Security.

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