When Kusum Kumari was nine years old, she noticed a group of girls playing soccer near her family’s home in India’s eastern Jharkhand province. The image stood out: In her rural community, where girls often marry young and have extensive responsibilities at home, playing sports is a pastime typically reserved for boys.
Ms. Kumari persuaded parents to let her join the non-profit group that had organized the game, and eventually began practising on a near-daily basis. Now 15, she says her years of playing soccer have helped boost her confidence and changed the way she and her teammates are perceived in their village. “I’d like for all people to play sports,” she said in a recent interview over Skype. “It’s a way to make them healthy and to think in another way from [the way] society thinks.”
As soccer fans watched the Women’s #World Cup , non-governmental organizations worked to draw attention to the broader role that sports can play in the lives of girls. Ms. Kumari was one of several athletes who travelled to Ottawa in June for a symposium aimed at urging governments to invest more in bringing sports to girls in poor and crisis-affected parts of the world.
“Healthy women, educated women and economically empowered women are extremely important for development in general,” said Katja Iversen, chief executive officer for the global health organization Women Deliver, which organized the event. “Sport is one of those pathways to get there.”
Organizations that use sports to promote social and economic development say girls who get involved tend to be healthier, do better in school and have a better status in their families. And in places such as Jharkhand, where many girls are married in their teens, those who play may be in a stronger position to delay marriage and continue their education.