Creating Greater Equality through Sports
In Pakistan, the roots of gender inequality run deep. And the weeds they nourish—educational disparities, illiteracy, societal exclusion, lack of employment opportunities, violence and more—threaten to hinder the future generations of girls to come. Today, with help from Salesian missionaries, some of these girls are planting seeds of hope for brighter futures.
For 21 years, our missionaries in Pakistan have been working to eradicate poverty (and the conditions that lead to it) one child and one family at a time. This work remains ever relevant today, as it is estimated that as many as 87 million people—or more than 30 percent of the country’s population—live below the poverty line.
“The reasons for this are complex and layered,” says Father Gus Baek, Director of Salesian Missions. “Certainly, however, the fact that women remain largely relegated to home-based roles—and don’t have the same opportunities or protections as men—can lead to multiple challenges such as early marriage and large families that are difficult to support on one income.”
That’s why, in Lahore and Quetta, Salesian missionaries focus on educating youth regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender. This lays the groundwork for livable-wage employment in the future. It also empowers each of them to become participating members of society who contribute to meaningful and lasting change.
In addition to elementary schools, boarding schools, and technical institutes in both locations—which currently educate hundreds of students—missionaries offer a broad variety of workshops and enrichment activities for youth, including sports. Which brings us back to the girls. Recently, in collaboration with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, missionaries in Quetta organized the first-ever badminton tournament just for them.
Called the “Mamma Margherita Badminton Tournament,” the event featured 20 area girls from five different ethnic groups and four different religions. They were given the opportunity to showcase the skills they built during COVID-safe outdoor practice sessions at the Salesian center.
“Sports can be a powerful way to create more gender-equitable communities,” explains Fr. Gus. “We’ve seen this time and again, even right here in the United States. Sports teaches values and skills like teamwork, perseverance, and confidence, which are invaluable both on and off the field. It also encourages diversity, tolerance, civility and God’s love for one another. In Pakistan specifically, opportunities like these can help boys respect their female schoolmates as true peers, and help girls find their voices to advocate for themselves and become leaders of change.”
In Quetta, this change might just start with a few racquets and birdies.
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