It is undisputable that Malawi national netball team is one of the best in the world.
The just-ended Commonwealth Games, where the Queens finished on position seven, are just an example of their outstanding performance.
However, do we ever reflect beyond the game and think about the difference it makes to girls and young women in Malawi?
How sport can improve their socio-economic status, education, well-being and contribution to the development of the nation?
Our national netball superstar Mwawi Kumwenda, now playing for Melbourne Vixens, excited with the Commonwealth Games, posted on her Facebook page how the game takes discipline and empowers one to believe in herself: “It’s all about hard work and belief in yourself, everything is possible.”
Despite the success of the national netball team, the country is yet to capitalise on the potential of sports to improve the lives of girls and young women.
Sport is not just for entertainment, but development as well. It is a human rights issue, including the right to good health, participation and education.
It binds people together and brings peace and reconciliation.
The United Nations General Assembly of 2015 emphasized the importance of sports by including it in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 2030 Declaration states in part: “Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable development. We recognise the growing contribution of sport to the realisation of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives.”
To achieve this, government, civil society and communities have a critical role to play and they need to recognise it.
Government has incorporated the global goals in the national policy, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS). In the newly launched MGDS III, under Gender, Youth Development, Persons with Disability and Social Welfare, sports is on the agenda for “increased sporting activities and training in other life skills”.
Malawi has great policies, but implementation is always a challenge.
There are many non-governmental organisations working on gender and human rights issues in the country, but not much is heard about those working on sport for development approach.
United Purpose (UP) is trying to bridge that gap by spearheading a sport for development project for a girls and women, aged 10 to 18, in Traditional Authority Chauma in Dedza.
Called Girls Inspired, the project aims at inspiring girls to reach their full potential and to also develop their ability to influence others.
The project empowers girls and enhances their decision-making and leadership skills while working with the broader community to raise awareness and promote behavioral change.
By sharing information and learning from the project, UP hopes that civil society organisations and other change agents will recognise the value of sport as a behavioral change and empowerment tool.
After the Queens represented the country so well at the Commonwealth Games, there is no better time than now to join hands in promoting sports for the development of the nation, especially now that we will be rolling out the MGDS III.
The country should leverage on the successes of the Queens to enhance sports, for we still have a huge battle to fight against gender inequality in the country.