‘Reflect, Act, Learn: Making Sports Safer for Women and Girls’ – a collaborative initiative by UNESCO, UN Women and Spotlight Initiative

A woman running behind a fence
A woman running in Les Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, France. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Louise de Metz
June 4, 2024

On 4 June 2024, to mark the release of the French version of the 'Handbook on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport', the historic Palais du Luxembourg in Paris played host to the event ‘Reflect, Act, Learn: Making Sports Safer for Women and Girls’.

Co-organized by UNESCO, UN Women and Spotlight Initiative, the event brought together a diverse array of stakeholders from the sport world, including federations, clubs, associations, renowned athletes, influencers, parliamentarians and experts. The event served as a platform to amplify the voices of athletes and survivors of violence, and to discuss concrete policy strategies aimed at understanding and eliminating violence against women and girls in the realm of sports.

audience seated in french senate
Audience attending the event in the Medicis room of the Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, France. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Louise de Metz

“When we talk about violence, we aren’t just talking about physical violence; we are talking about economic violence, we are talking about psychological violence; and we are talking about the attrition that continuums of violence create," said Director a.i. for Research, Ethics and Inclusion and Chief of the Executive Office, Social and Human Sciences Sector, UNESCO, Dr. Mariagrazia Squicciarini. "I have never seen gender gaps like those in sport – there is no other sector which compares: it is this inequality and power imbalance, the pay gaps, the participation gaps, the representation gaps, that feed into the violence. If we don’t address the systems that underpin inequality and violence against women and girls, we are endorsing abuse.”

The discussions were grounded in the recommendations laid out in the Handbook on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport, a collaborative effort between UNESCO and UN Women with support from Spotlight Initiative.

Women on panel
Panelists discuss how policy makers can make sport safer for women and girls. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Louise de Metz

Moderated by independent sports journalist and TV presenter Anne Laure Bonnet, the event featured distinguished speakers including:

  • Fabienne Bourdais, Interministerial Director for Major Sports Events and Combating Violence in Sport, Ministry of Sports, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, France
  • Amanda Gutierrez, Sports Lawyer and President, FUTPRO
  • Astrid Guyart, Olympic Fencing Champion, Secretary General and Co-President of the High-Level Athletes Commission, National Olympic Committee, France
  • Kelly Hogarth, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Thelma Gwen Ltd
  • H.E. Christina Kokkinakis, EU Ambassador to UNESCO, the OECD, Andorra and Monaco
  • Catherine Moyon de Baecque, Olympic Athlete and President of the Commission for the Fight against Sexual Violence and Discrimination, National Olympic Committee, France
  • Emma Oudiou, Olympic Athlete and Equality Advocate
  • Katia Palla, Director, La Voix de Sarah
  • Florence Raes, Director, Liaison Office in Brussels, UN Women
  • Dr. Mariagrazia Squicciarini, Director a.i. for Research, Ethics and Inclusion and Chief of the Executive Office, Social and Human Sciences Sector, UNESCO
  • Dominique Vérien, Senator and President of the Delegation for Women’s Rights and Equality of Opportunity between Men and Women, France

"I have never seen gender gaps like those in sport, there is no other sector which compares." - Dr. Mariagrazia Squicciarini, UNESCO

The conference was divided into two panel discussions.

The first, 'Breaking the silence: Athletes speak out on the key challenges to making sport safer for all women and girls', provided a platform for current and former athletes to share their perspectives and experiences. It aimed to shed light on the need to make sports a safer space for women and girls.

 

“In elite sports, athletes, including children, are often left alone with their coach or team staff and separated from their families for days, sometimes even weeks, at remote training camps, extended evening training sessions, away competitions… This environment, combined with the central importance of the body, the power imbalances and extreme pressures to perform at all costs, leaves athletes particularly vulnerable to abuse if there are no specific trainings, background checks or safeguards in place,” said Olympic Athlete and Equality Advocate Emma Oudiou.
 

 
Women standing in a row
Panelists from left to right: Fabienne Bourdais, Astrid Guyart, Emma Oudiou, Katia Palla, Amanda Gutierrez, Catherine Moyon de Baeque, Kelly Hogarth, Anne Laure Bonnet, Mariagrazia Squicciarini. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Louise de Metz

“There is a law of silence in sports, that protects perpetrators and sport’s reputation instead of prioritizing athletes’ safety. Survivors like myself and the powerful women on this panel are breaking this omerta – this is why we are here, and why events like this are so important. We are speaking out to trigger change. This is how we can truly protect sport’s beauty, values and integrity,” said Olympic Athlete and President of the Commission for the Fight against Sexual Violence and Discrimination, National Olympic Committee Catherine Moyon de Baecque.
 

The second panel discussion, 'Changing the Game: How can policy makers and sport leaders take steps to address violence against women and girls in sport?' was a solutions-centered conversation that brought together experts and leaders to delve into policy measures tackling violence against women and girls in sports.

People seated in semi circle
Medicis room at Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, France. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Louise de Metz

“In Spain, we created FUTPRO to end gender discrimination in football, from equipment, infrastructure, pay, maternity rights and media representation to sexual harassment, abuse and violence," said Sports Lawyer and President of FUTPRO Amanda Gutierrez. "Having a professional union specifically for female players, that understands their needs, experiences and can defend their rights in a male-dominated system has been an uphill battle, but it is paying off with amazing results. With equitable and safe working conditions, women athletes can reach unfathomable heights – let’s give them these conditions now.”

“From independent reporting structures, systematic background checks on coaches and educators, to safe places for athletes and trained safeguarding officers in each federation, we are working closely with the Ministry of Sports to implement measures to protect women and girls in sport and make sure that the upcoming Olympic Games leave a positive safeguarding legacy,” said Olympic Fencing Champion, Secretary-General and Co-President of the High-Level Athletes Commission, National Olympic Committee, Astrid Guyart.

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    About the partnership

    Sport, as a microcosm of society, plays a significant role in both perpetuating and preventing harmful norms and practices correlated with violence against women and girls. On the eve of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the first-ever to have perfect gender parity amongst athletes, this event underscored the importance of going a step further by leveraging the power of sports to foster gender equality and working together to take active steps to ensure that sport is safe for all.

    The Handbook on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport, a collaborative effort between UNESCO, UN Women, and the United Nations Spotlight Initiative, offers crucial insights and practical recommendations for addressing violence in sports, equipping policy makers and practitioners with strategies to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, protect survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.

    This initiative, part of UNESCO’s mandate for Sport and UN Women’s Sport for Generation Equality framework, demonstrates a shared commitment to federating collective action to end violence against women and girls in sports. Following the Policy Roundtable on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport held at UNESCO HQ on the 5th of April, this event is a key part of ongoing efforts leading up to UNESCO’s Global Sports Conference on July 23-24, 2024.

    Through insightful exchanges and meaningful dialogue, participants at ‘Reflect, Act, Learn’ identified strategies for impactful collaboration and action, marking a pivotal step towards a safer, more inclusive sports environment for women and girls worldwide, building on the insights of the Handbook and the 10-point Call for Action of the April Roundtable.
     

    About UNESCO

    With 194 Member States, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization contributes to peace and security by leading multilateral cooperation on education, science, culture, communication and information. Headquartered in Paris, UNESCO has offices in 54 countries and employs over 2300 people. UNESCO oversees more than 2000 World Heritage sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks; networks of Creative, Learning, Inclusive and Sustainable Cities; and over 13,000 associated schools, university chairs, training and research institutions. Its Director-General is Audrey Azoulay.

    “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” – UNESCO Constitution, 1945.

    MEDIA CONTACT

    Clare O’Hagan, UNESCO
    +33 (0) 145 68 17 29
    c.o-hagan@unesco.org

    Caroline Savin, Spotlight Initiative
    +33 (0) 7 49 92 90 67
    caroline.savin@un.org

    Irene Atim, UN Women
    +1 (646) 781 1234
    irene.atim@unwomen.or

     

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