Now Is The Time To Invest In Women and Girls

This month, we continue our Inspirational Women series speaking with ITTF Foundation's ambassador, Sarah Hanffou. She is passionate about education and youth empowerment and is the founder of Ping Sans Frontieres, an organization that develops table tennis as an educational tool.

A project inspired heavily by the good memories of her time playing with the French national team and winning the African championship in Cameroon in 2010, something she holds special.

“Life is short, I want to make the most of it. I do believe that at the end, what matters is not the job we had or the money we earned, but the people we met, the positive impact we were able to make in people’s lives - this is what guides me.”

Sarah Hanffou stopped playing for the French national team at the age of 21 years. This is when she decided to play for the Cameroonian national team, an experience that has meant so much; it was a way to reconnect with my roots and family, but also to give back what table tennis has given me. Winning the first African Champions title in the history of table tennis in Cameroon was a defining moment.

Ping Sans Frontieres (PSF) donating table tennis rubbers at the 2019 ITTF Nigeria Open. Photo credit: PSF

Empowering Africa’s Youth

I realise the chance I’ve had in having coaches that not only wanted to teach me table tennis, but also to educate me, teach me values. Table tennis can empower women and teach them self-reliance and resilience. As the UN highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality), through sport-based programs, women and girls can be equipped with knowledge and skills for employability, on how to act in case they experience violence, and with leadership skills needed to progress in society. Sarah’s goal is to empower young African players, and try to give them the tools to learn everything they can with table tennis, not only how to play but also the skills and values we learn from sports.

“I am very positive about the future for Africa’s youth, I see many talented young boys and girls and I see people willing to get involved and support them. The road is not easy for them, but everything is doable.”

Sport can provide safe and fair environments for women and girls, which has great psychosocial benefits. Additionally, table tennis can increase girls’ beliefs in their own abilities, enabling economic emancipation. Girls can realize that they are capable of doing things they never imagined possible. Implementing M&E programs that specifically look at the gender lens, at the onset of sport for development programs will be essential in being able to effectively measure their real contribution on the lives of girls and women.

Depending on the country context, often-times there are not many opportunities for young girls to participate in sport. Or perhaps there are cultural barriers. So access to sport directly affects women participation and these barriers need to be addressed. For top female athletes there are still challenges such as the limited coverage in the media, fewer sponsorships and huge pay gaps.

NOW is the time to invest in women and girls! We have seen the tremendously positive effects of sport on women empowerment and furthermore, there is a rising demand in the commercialization of women’s sport. Let’s combine the knowledge and expertise of SDP practitioners with the reach of sport leaders and see how we can change the future of female sport!

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