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Empowering girls to break gender stereotypes

A whistle sounds and a group of young girls begin their warm-up, running around a small field outside the local school in a village in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region.

They are gearing up to play a friendly game of volleyball, a sight unseen before in this small remote community.

Most people in the community believe that girls and sports are “badly mismatched”, says the girls’ head coach Su. “But we wanted to show that girls can participate in sports.”

Su and her team are taking part in a ChildFund project that is helping to empower young girls in disadvantaged communities in Myanmar, through sport and leadership and life skills training. This is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

“At first, playing volleyball was physically challenging for the girls, but over time their bodies and minds strengthened,” Su says.

The girls participating in the project are between 12 and 17 years old, an age group particularly vulnerable in rural and remote communities like Su’s to becoming isolated, dropping out of school and being forced into the workforce to help support their families.

Poverty and a lack of jobs and opportunities to develop skills in their community means many girls end up leaving school early and migrating to find work in neighbouring countries such as Thailand. In these jobs they are often abused and exploited by their employees, or trafficked.

Hnin, age 16, has become more confident about confiding in her peers since being a part of ChildFund’s project.

ChildFund’s project is helping to ensure these girls have the tools to change the course of their futures.

In addition to learning and playing volleyball to stay healthy and develop their team and leadership skills, the project also teaches girls how to plan for their futures, manage money and drive positive social change in their communities. It also provides safe spaces where girls can open up about issues that matter to them and feel supported. Some of the topics they discuss include early marriage, dropping out of school, unemployment and domestic violence.

Since taking part in the project a couple of years ago, 16-year-old Hnin has become more confident about confiding in her peers and is now a part of a network of empowered and supportive young girls in her community.

“When I started attending the training I was afraid and nervous,” she says. “One day, I had the opportunity to talk about my feelings and concerns. My friends were encouraging and I was overjoyed. Now, I do not hesitate to let my voice be heard.”

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