Unicef supports various development projects, in which sports figure prominently. One of these projects, Kicking AIDS out of Kenya, is aimed at forming girls' football teams in several districts in Kenya as a vehicle toward teaching them to avoid becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. The project includes interesting lessons about the role of sports in the fight against HIV/AIDS and in the struggle for gender empowerment.
A considerable share of Kenya's population is HIV positive. The 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) indicates that 6.7% of the population is HIV positive. This rate varies depending on the region and exceeds 30% in some. Infection rates vary considerably between boys and girls. Girls ages 15 to 19 are seven times more likely than boys in this age group to become infected. The same study has noted considerable gender inequality. Women do not figure in decision-making processes. They are not entitled to own property, are often abused and are severely overworked. Education is considered more important for boys than for girls.
These findings reveal that in Kenya young adults, especially young girls and women, need help to become more self-sufficient and more independent. They also need to be informed and to be taught how to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. Broaching difficult subjects such as HIV/AIDS and sex, however, is far from easy. Appropriate and appealing associative links need to be available.
The role of sports
Sports (i.e. football in this case) is one such associative link. At practice sessions coaches are able to address difficult subjects such as HIV, AIDS and sex. But football has more to offer: it is a vehicle for informing the community as well. At tournaments, banners, music and performances at half-time convey messages to the public that get through to youths and men as well.
Through sports, girls learn to speak up for themselves. They also have the opportunity to excel and to become more self-confident and self-aware. Team sports such as football teach girls how to operate as a group. All this places girls in a better position to discuss sex with boys as equals and to oppose them as needed.
This makes sports an appropriate means for Unicef to pursue several of its core objectives. In addition to serving as a vehicle, sports is an objective in its own right. All children have the right to participate in sports and to play games. In a setting where girls and women are responsible for the heaviest household chores, sports - according to Unicef - are a rare opportunity for diversion and enjoyment.