Breaking The Rules - Challenging Gender Stereotypes Is One of the Many Ways Children International Youth Programs Help Girls Break Boundaries and Achieve Success

Breaking The Rules - Challenging Gender Stereotypes Is One of the Many Ways Children International Youth Programs Help Girls Break Boundaries and Achieve Success

Multimedia from this Release

“I thought, if I can play soccer with the boys I can do anything,” says Edilma. ©2014 Children International

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 7:05am

CAMPAIGN: Empowering Girls

CONTENT: Article

By Garrett Kenyon

The overarching goal of all of CI’s youth programs is to help poor youth become healthy, self-sufficient young adults. But in cultures where women are typically expected to be subservient to – or dependent on – men, programs that teach girls to think independently and become leaders can be controversial.

In most parts of the world, violence against women is decreasing, though gradually. That makes combating inequality particularly important in places like Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia, where violence against women is actually becoming more common. In 2010, a survey conducted by the Colombian government showed that 37 percent of women reported being physically abused by men. For the roughly 4 million Colombians displaced by the 50-year internal armed conflict, the rates are even higher, according to Human Rights Watch.

The most effective way CI helps reverse these trends is by training youth to respect themselves and others, regardless of gender, and look beyond stereotypes that view women as second-class citizens. Girls between 12 and 19 participate in leadership training, serve as presidents of their Youth Councils, learn to manage money through financial education and participate in job-skills training in fields traditionally dominated by males. But the CI program that often presents children with their first alternative point of view to cultural stereotypes about women is our Sports for Development program.

It’s still considered rare for Colombian girls to play the same sports as boys – and even rarer for them to play together. That didn’t deter Edilma from Cartagena. When she joined our sports program in 2010, there were 63 youth playing soccer – all boys. “When I went the first day, I was told that there was not a [separate] team for girls, and all the boys started looking at me funny,” Edilma recalls. It may have been uncomfortable, but for Edilma, the opportunity to play on an organized team was worth a little social awkwardness.

Others had tried to talk her out of playing and failed. “My friends told me soccer’s a sport for boys … that I should look for a sport for girls. But I feel happy playing soccer. To me, it means a chance to forget all the problems that go along with being poor …. Some people with problems join gangs or use drugs. For me, I choose to vent my problems through sports and get rid of bad energy doing something positive.”

If anyone doubted Edilma’s ability to compete with boys, their doubts fell away when she got her first chance to play. “The coach told me he liked the way I played, and the boys praised me as well.”

When she wasn’t on the field, Edilma was preparing for her future. In a 2011 interview, she outlined her immediate goals: to graduate and pursue her education so she could help her family and be a role model for her younger siblings. “My dream is to have a professional career as an electrical engineer, to progress my family … and to play soccer in a world cup,” she tells us.

Now 19, Edilma is well on her way to achieving those dreams. She still plays soccer – only now it’s on the team of the university where she studies electrical engineering. And she’ll never forget it was CI that gave her that first chance to step on a soccer field and show the boys what she had.

“Soccer is something so beautiful that has happened in my life …,” she shares. “It taught me discipline and perseverance – to be strong and do things with passion – and not let things defeat me … to fight for the things I want.”

Photos and reporting assistance by Marelvis Campo and Patricia Calderón.

This article is available with additional information on the eNews section of our website.

Learn more about how Children International is empowering girls.

About Children International

Children International prepares children and youth to escape the traps of poverty by supporting their critical needs, building resilience, and engaging them in transformative activities. Children International accomplishes this by providing crucial benefits and compassionate care through easily accessible, modern community centers. Children International’s presence, programs and supporters have a positive impact on children, youth, families and communities; provide protection; encourage self-sufficiency; and serve as catalysts for change.

For more information about Children International, visit

Follow Children International on Facebook and Twitter.


Brittany Gelbach
+1 (816) 943-3832