Maria Toorpakai
Top ranked squash player, founder of the Maria Toorpakai Foundation and Champion for Peace

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05/03/2017 par Maria Toorpakai

Let’s dream big on the Women’s Day

People say that behind every successful man, there is a woman. But I believe that also behind every successful woman there is a man. At the International Women’s Day, I desire a world where opportunities are free from gender stereotypes, where men and women do not perceive each other as competitors, but rather as colleagues who can help each other to become better persons.

The International Women’s Day is a moment to reflect about the struggle that many women have faced in the past to become equal. This moment is also an opportunity to envisage a society where participation and respect of human rights comes from all members of society no matter their gender, sex, religion and nationality.

Stereotypes and gender inequality are a problem that is taking place all over the globe that should push us to find platforms for inclusion and dialogue between women and men. Sport, for example, is a valuable channel to promote gender equity and to strengthen women and girls’ capabilities.

The beauty of sport is in its capacity to connect people. Everyday I am amazed about the positive impact that sport has in my life. I never had the opportunity to attend any education institution, but I can tell that sport has been my life school. It gave me a self-confidence to achieve everything I dreamed about, as well as the strength to give the best of me to others, particularly to girls.

A path to become a sportswoman in Pakistan had been strenuous. I needed to dress my brother’s clothing in order to be able to play. At the time, I was the only Pashtun woman playing squash in Pakistan. However, over the past couple of years there has been a progress in understanding that girls’ participation in sport is not only a right, but also that it can be used to promote development goals in order to achieve peace.

I am very pleased to see that the number of girls, who are participating in sport, is growing. Today, exactly eleven girls in my region are taking lead at the sport field. The number is still low, but I am confident that step-by-step a structural change would be visible. Many parents in Pakistan are starting to understand that sport and physical education generates a positive impact on their daughters’ lives.

After seeing my international achievements numerous parents approached me and showed their motivation to engage their daughters into practicing sport. These positive comments confirmed my belief that girls’ participation in sport challenges gender stereotypes and are breaking down entrenched discriminatory attitude. It also confirms my view that high level sport women can help in challenging people’s perceptions.

Today, athletes, international sporting federations and governments can contribute in breaking down the barriers for the participation of women and girls in sport. For instance, they should promote sport complex changes as to encourage women and girls to participate in sport, such as providing separate changing facilities or improving facilities designed only for girls to be as good as the boys’ venues. Furthermore, the schedule of activities could be changed to allow women and girls access at convenient times, more female coaches could motivate parents to send their daughters to practice sport and mixed gender teams would allow overcoming inequalities.

Boys and girls are born in the same way. They came to this world by the same process, so why we should not give men and women the same opportunities during the rest of their life? Today the journey towards gender equity means to let everybody no matter his or her gender to have a choice. Let’s envision a society in which men and women can imagine and design their own future freely and without fears.

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