Great exchange on women and sport: the 7th IWG World Conference

From 17 to 20 May, the International Working Group on Women and Sport held its world conference in Gaborone, Botswana. The event gathered 1300 participants from 85 countries, with 100 participants from 18 Europe. Among the speakers, there were three representatives of ENGSO: our Honorary President, Birgitta Kervinen, the Chair of our Equality Within Sport Committee, Kristina Thurée and Engso Youth young delegate, Anett Fodor. Kristina Thurée is also a member of the IWG Board, representing the European region.

From left: Kristina Thurée, Birgitta Kervinen and Anett Fodor

On the first day of the conference, regional meetings were held. Kristina Thurée chaired the European meeting, where 50 delegates participated. Ms. Thurée wrote a report on the meeting that can be accessed here.

Several side events were held, among which European initiatives where presented and discussed. One of them was the Council of Europe’s „Preventing and combating Child Sexual abuse in sport”. Another one was the well-visited Finnish „From Helsinki to Gaborone, leadership, coaching and visibility” presentation. Finland had the greatest European delegation with 32 participants.

The programme included plenary sessions with keynote addresses from high-level advocates of women and sport, parallel sessions with abstract presentations and cultural events.

On the first day, one of the highlights of the plenary session of theme 1, „Being well to Play Well” was the keynote address of Former President of Finland, Her Excellency Tarja Halonen, who emphasised the importance of health and physical activity and that every human being must have a human right to do sport. She said that we have to support gender equality structures, as well as availability of resources and policy strong frameworks. She highlighted the importance of having women in leadership roles, and to be prepared for getting scratches when breaking the glass ceiling.

On day two, a highly interesting panel discussion on theme 2, „Let them Lead” focused on changing the leadership landscape of sports. There, Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation & Sport at DG EAC of the European Commission held a speech on the role of governmental organisations in promotion and facilitation, and not the creation of rules. As she pointed out, this is the autonomy of sport. When talking about the importance of women in policy-making positions, she stated that "female underrepresentation is a clear waste of human capacity and competence". She concluded by saying that the European Commission have a soft policy role, and to give policy support by a funding source, the Erasmus+ Programme.

Later the day Kristina Thurée moderated one of the parallel sessions under theme 3, entitled “Tell their Story” about leveraging media to advocate for women’s sport.

On the third day of the conference, the plenary session on theme 4, „Welcome and Empower All through Sport” started with Birgitta Kervinen’s powerful keynote address where she talked about the long journey for equality in sport, and that we not yet have arrived at our final destination. She emphasised that the work has to continue with concrete actions. It needs courage to make it happen, and also great leaders to lead us. She highlighted mentoring as a tool to empower all and that the work for equality is not a women’s issue. As she said „it’s our issue” and that „one can create change, but many can make a movement". Birgitta was also on the panel of this session.

Birgitta Kervinen during her keynote speech (Photo credit: Monirul Bhuiyan - thepressphoto.com)

Right after the plenary session, Birgitta Kervinen and Kristina Thurée held an abstract presentation entitled “The leadership landscape of sport in Europe – from the 90’s until today” that was followed by Anett Fodor’s presentation on women’s empowerment for equality from volunteering till leadership within university sport.

Later that day, under theme 5, „Sport Without Borders (cross cultural collaboration)”, Kristina Thurée and Sari Tuunainen from the Finnish Coaches’ Association, presented ENGSO’s Erasmus+ funded SCORE project in a parallel session. The initiative aimed at strengthening coaching with the objective to raise equality. The project was implemented in 2015 and 2016. In 2017 it was selected as an Erasmus+ Sport success story by the European Commission.

On the concluding day of the conference the plenary session on theme 6 was about „Safe Space, protecting women in sport”. Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee gave a keynote address, that was followed by an inspiring panel where the panelists presented different views on the theme. Kari Fasting, a well-known researcher from Norway, previous member of EWS, presented results from new studies that show that the culture of youth sport is a risk factor, and that psychological harassment from fellow athletes is much more common than from coaches.

Paola Ottonello from the European Commission gave a short presentation about the VOICE project, where the objective is to enhance the sport community’s capacity to combat sexual violence and to strengthen integrity in sport. The project generates crucial research data for the European sport community by listening to the voices of those that have been affected. The resulting evidence-base provides a platform for powerful knowledge-exchange opportunities and educational resources. ENGSO – through ENGSO Youth – is part of the VOICE project that ends in June 2018.

The panel discussion concluded that the following challenges need to be addressed: awareness-raising, policies, underreporting, and monitoring and evaluation.

This panel was followed by celebrating the IWG leadership from 1994 until now. In the panel, five former co-chairs of the IWG were sitting, including Birgitta Kervinen, who held the position between 2006 and 2010. The former co-chairs gave their views on the impacts and the positive development that has been achieved by the IWG network and conferences through the years.

The participants of the last panel discussion (Photo credit: Monirul Bhuiyan - thepressphoto.com)

The event concluded by the Closing Ceremony where its legacy – „The Botswana Big 5” – was presented by Ms. Kristina Thurée. The key elements of the legacy are:

  • Media

  • Accountability

  • Representation

  • Research to Practice

  • Communication

The full legacy paper is available here.

New Zealand will now take over the IWG Chair and Secretariat for four years. The 8th IWG World Conference will be held in Auckland 2022.

Further photos about the event can be found here.

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