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Using sport as a tool to improve young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy

Sports has been endorsed as an innovative tool of social and sustainable development by the United Nations (UN, 2015; STĂNESCU et al., 2020). Sport is being widely adopted as a social tool by NGOs around the world to boost social campaigns, empower young people by providing them with life skills, and improve their mental and physical health (Asif, 2018). This study explores sport’s innovative role to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocacy for young people in Pakistan.

Young people in Pakistan face a number of obstacles that hinder them from exercising fundamental SRHR, which is critical to reducing poverty and enhancing long-term health. SRHR is strongly linked to rights to life, liberty, health, choice, privacy, education, and inclusion (UNFPA). In a population of 200 million, of which young people constitute more than 60 per cent, the unavailability and unpopularity of SRHR has left young people vulnerable (F. Paracha, 2012).

Youth-led NGOs such as Kafka Welfare Organisation (KWO) are stepping into this gap, using sports as a social and development tool to boost SRHR advocacy campaign in Punjab, Pakistan. They integrate sports and SRHR advocacy campaigns and use sports fields as safe spaces. In these safe spaces, young people, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, colour or race, talk openly about SRHR issues, learning from Kafka’s mentors and coaches. Through specifically designed, team-based and objective-oriented sports/physical activities, young people learn life skills, such as leadership, critical thinking, tolerance, confidence, and empathy, and sports skills, such as soccer (Kay, 2009; Schulenkorf, 2010). In addition, they learn about sportsmanship on the field and learn social and moral values that are relevant in their daily lives (Asif, 2018). Lastly, sports gives girls awareness of their bodies, unsettles the gender order, and breaks down social barriers (Women Win).

Social sports programmes and physical activities help to improve mental and physical health of young people by reducing trauma, stress, anxiety and depression (Lyras, 2009; H Mirahmadi, 2016; Kubesch et al., 2003). At the same time, adoption of social values such as inclusion, acceptance, mutual respect, responsibility, discipline, and understanding of diversity help to counter discrimination and breakdown social barriers and isolation (Cardenas 2013; Johns et al., 2014; Hall, 2011; Lyras, 2009; Asif, 2018).

The study has used a qualitative method of open-ended interviews, and analysis of available documents, such as organisational reports and online articles to collect data. Three coaches from Kafka Welfare Organisation (KWO) and the Your Choice Your Life joint programme by KWO and International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP) were interviewed and participants’ data were collected from published articles and organisational reports. The collected data was analysed through thematic coding.

One participant said “During activities (…) I experienced equality (…). We are all equal (…) Now I accept people from all backgrounds and cultures”. Sport has the power to help young people transcend barriers and differences by uniting them through friendship and team spirit. Another