Young Indian women empowered by Mandela's Laureus legacy

When Nelson Mandela spoke at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco in 2000, his speech about the power of sport to change the world went down in the annals of history.

The words of the first Laureus Patron have been a cornerstone for the Sport for Good Foundation and there are countless examples of Laureus working with projects that use sport to change the lives of young people affected by social exclusion, crime, natural disasters, wars and disease.

Young women from Jharkhand in India, for instance, are expected to be married and start having children at an early age, denying them opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

Half of school-age girls in rural Jharkhand are not in school, 60% of girls become child brides and female literacy rates are only 45%.

The Yuwa (meaning “youth” in Hindu) project, founded by Franz Gastler, uses football to empower young girls in the area to overcome violence and child marriage and choose their own futures.

While the hook is football, played by 450 girls in the programme, Yuwa also offers education from highly qualified teachers for 95 young girls, empowering them to choose their own futures. They learn to speak English fluently, build self-confidence and self-worth and start to change perceptions of what a girl from a rural village in India is capable of achieving. 

Franz Gastler said: “When girls don’t know their worth it’s a very dangerous place. If you don’t know your self-worth, then you’ve got no defence against all the things that might come at you. When girls know their worth, they are limitless.

“When we started Yuwa I never imagined that this first team of 12 girls that we had would become hundreds or that these girls would become youth icons.

“I feel privileged to have been able to be a part of their story, and I am grateful to Laureus for their continued commitment to helping us take Yuwa to the next level in capacity and sustainability.”

At this year's Laureus World Sport Awards, Yuwa was recognised as the winner of the prestigious Laureus Sport for Good Award for their outstanding contribution to society using football as a tool to transform the lives of young girls.

Four of Yuwa’s beneficiaries showcased their football skills ahead of the Awards in Monaco with legendary former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Wenger commented: “People talk about the beautiful game, and the Laureus-supported Yuwa programme is a wonderful example of the beautiful impact our sport can have.

“The work Yuwa is doing in rural communities in India reaches far beyond the football pitch. They are changing perceptions, improving lives and giving young girls the chance to create brighter futures.”

While the majority of males and females in rural areas of India seldom leave their villages, let alone their state, more than 30 Yuwa girls have spoken at universities, TEDx events and conferences and travelled across India and abroad.

More critically, in a context where 60% of girls are child brides, 100% of Yuwa girls have not been coerced into child marriage.

Neeta Kumari, one of the participants at Yuwa, said: “In my community, it’s just a rule that girls should marry at 14 or 15, have children and spend the rest of their lives in the kitchen.

“I want to play football, stay in school and be a role model so other girls can tell their family: ‘Wow, see that girl! She has done it, why can’t I?’ Through Yuwa, I have the power to choose my own future.”

Sean Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, said: “Football for these young girls in the Yuwa programme is a life-changing opportunity, and I know I speak on behalf of the entire Laureus World Sports Academy when I say that we are hugely inspired by their work.”

In 2018, nearly 300,000 young people all over the world directly benefited from more than 160 Laureus Sport for Good supported projects in 40 countries, working to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage by using sport as the tool for change.

Of the children and young people Laureus Sport for Good programmes reached worldwide, 49% were young women and girls.

To find out more about Yuwa, please visit https://www.laureus.com/sport-for-good/india/yuwa