Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania

To address staggering levels of teen pregnancy in Tanzania, two global nonprofits are using the tool of sports to address taboo topics, like women’s sexual and reproductive health.

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
Coaches Across Contents and Pathfinder International are using the tool of sports to address taboo women’s health issues in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

In Tanzania, 27 percent of teenage girls aged 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant with their first child in 2016, according to the Tanzanian Health Survey. In this East African country known for the vast wilderness of Serengeti National Park, an estimated 1 million women face an unintended pregnancy every year.

These staggering levels of teenage pregnancies have knock-on effects that contribute to health, education and gender equality outcomes. Pregnant teenage girls in Tanzania are normally expelled from school. Over 20 Tanzanian women die each day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

To address this problem, two nonprofits focused on reproductive and maternal health, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention and care—Coaches Across Contents and Pathfinder International—have combined to use the tool of sports to address taboo women’s health issues in Tanzania.

“Sexual health issues are directly linked to education and to so many other pathways of community and personal development,” Nora Dooley, impact team leader at Coaches Across Continents, said.

After six months of planning, curriculum development and project design, the partnership delivered the first Purposeful Play program, launched at the start of 2019, to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
In Tanzania, staggering levels of teenage pregnancies have knock-on effects that contribute to health, education and gender equality outcomes. (Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

“Egg, Sperm and Goalkeepers”: Using Play to Start a Dialogue About Sex

If you were to observe a game of “Egg, Sperm and Goalkeepers” being played on a pitch in Zanzibar, you might mistake it for a sport you already know.

“It looks a lot like a traditional game of football. But we’re not talking at all about football. That’s not our objective,” Dooley said.

Two teams try to kick a ball into their opponent’s goal. At the beginning of the game, each team is not allowed to protect their goal with a keeper, and as you might imagine, it becomes a high scoring affair.

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
Through purposeful play, we can open up a world for youth that allows them to have these conversations where normally they can’t,” said Dooley. (Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

In the second round, a goalkeeper is added and in the third round, a second goalkeeper may join, and so on. It’s a simple and concise way of beginning a dialogue around contraception—which in Zanzibar and greater Tanzania, is not something normally discussed.

“We then ask the players, ‘What could this mean when it comes to pregnancy?’” said Dooley. “And what can we do to protect ourselves?”


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“We Have To Do Something About Teenage Pregnancy”

The Coaches Across Contents (CAC) and Pathfinder International partnership was brokered by a local Tanzanian CAC coach, Nico, who demanded, “We have to do something about teenage pregnancy.” To Nico, sports are uniquely placed to tackle this issue.

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
Purposeful play means transforming the sports field into a safe space where people can learn and ultimately question harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices. (Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

“Through purposeful play, we can open up a world for youth that allows them to have these conversations where normally they can’t,” Dooley said. “It allows them to do that in a way that is accessible, that is approachable, and that’s through play.”

This concept of purposeful play—transforming the sports field into a safe space where people can learn and ultimately question harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices—is at the core of the CAC mission.

CAC’s SRHR curriculum includes four modules—knowledge of reproductive health and rights; community responsibility; healthy household environment and conservation. Much of their success lies in their ability to foster collaboration: They brought together global experts in SRHR with Pathfinder International, project evaluation with Upshot; youth leadership with Michael Johnson Young Leaders; and local programming with the Ministry of Sport in Zanzibar and coaches and educators from communities across mainland Tanzania.

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
94 percent of participating youth are confident they could refuse sex if they did not want it. (Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

In a short time, CAC are already seeing changes in the communities in which they operate. So far, 92 percent of participating youth are confident they could get their partner(s) to use contraceptives if they desired, and 94 percent of participating youth are confident they could refuse sex if they did not want it.

Global Recognition

Following their work, the coalition of organizations have been recognized by Beyond Sport and nominated for the prestigious 2020 Beyond Sport Global Awards, nominated in the Health and Well-Being category.

Now in its 12th year, the 2020 Beyond Sport Global Awards will celebrate, support, raise awareness and provide funding for ways sport is being used to help make the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality.

Using Sports To Address Taboo Topics—Like Sexual and Reproductive Health—in Tanzania
(Courtesy of Beyond Sport)

CAC are multiple-time Beyond Sport Global Award Winners, notably winning Best New Project in 2009, the award ceremony’s inaugural year, and Global Impact Award in 2019. They work with governments, corporations, foundations and community-based organizations to implement their Education Outside the Classroom programming and create lasting social change based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Looking forward, Dooley and the wide range of partners are determined to build on their successes and continue their hard work.

“To be recognized by our peers in this way, it feels like permission to keep going,” she said. “We’re excited to keep going.”

This collaborative project from Coaches Across Continents and Pathfinder International is a 2020 Beyond Sport Global Awards Shortlister in the Sport for Health and Well-being Category. Learn more about the rest of this year’s Shortlist and follow their journeys at beyondsport.org/journey.

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Beyond Sport is a global organization that seeks to promote the role sport can play in creating sustainable social change.