Written by the ONSIDE Team
The third edition of the ONSIDE Funders Dialogues focused on the MENA region and
offered a reflective space for learning and exchanges between a group of ONSIDE MENA
grantees, Advisory Committee members and funders. The conversation provided invaluable
insights into the barriers that limit girls and women’s access to and participation in sports at
all levels in the region –from the grassroots to the competitive–. It also highlighted the
importance of a localised and tailored approach to participatory grant-making at the
intersections of sports and gender justice that takes into account the diversity and
complexities of this geography.
The lack of adequate policies significantly limits women and girls’ entry into sports at the
competitive level, which is why some grantee partners in the region are collaborating with
external federations and seeking community funding to provide scholarships to girls from
less privileged backgrounds to participate in sports. These efforts have resulted in greater
recognition by local and state governments of the role that women and girls can play in
competitive sports, leading to positive policy changes in the matter. Despite such
recognition, it is clear that there is still a long way to go, as the sports infrastructure
remains very much limited and is clearly segmented across sports and locations. In
Jordan, for example, schools don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support more than
one sport, and most sport for development initiatives available for younger ages come from
clubs and academies, thus restricting opportunities to those who can afford them.
Accessing funds is a challenge on its own. In Egypt, where the ecosystem of decision-makers is predominantly male, more sponsorship opportunities are made available to male athletes and male-dominated sports. Similarly, in Jordan, the lack of financial incentives has resulted in a much younger retirement age for women athletes, and there is a strong need for individual sponsorships to keep them in the game. However, it is not clear how these sponsorship opportunities can be made available for women in the region. And while certain individual sports like judo and taekwondo have seen a huge jump in achievement in recent years, leading to more funding trickling down to the academy level, less popular sports, such as volleyball, do not receive the same attention.
The scenario is even more complex in countries embroiled in long-term political
turmoil. In Palestine, funding for competitive sports is very difficult to come by, so our
grantee partner focuses on organising competitions locally within the Gaza strip. They work
to empower women with disabilities in the communities by integrating them into sports clubs
and institutions with the broader aim of challenging harmful stereotypes and highlighting their
valuable contributions to society. One of the main challenges in supporting people with
disabilities through sports is being able to cover specific transportation and equipment
needs, which are very expensive.
Last but not least, funder representatives emphasised that working together is key to
bring about meaningful social change, which led them to contribute to a pooled funding
mechanism. They also highlighted that bold leadership is needed in order to keep pushing
for innovative approaches in the sector and shift towards more flexible and unrestricted
funding, particularly in regions such as MENA.