By Jeanette Smith Boston, MA, written on July 30, 2020
Published on November 25, 2020 in recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Bior Guigni, Executive Director of Beat the Streets Boston joined a cohort of 35 like minded individuals, each representing sports-based or girl empowerment focused organizations on an exhilarating U.S. exchange in Pakistan. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, the Women Win Foundation organized an engaging itinerary in Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan from December 4th to 11th.
Women Win along with Right to Play as a partner have traveled around the world (US, Pakistan, Panama, and beyond) to bring empowering messages to people of all walks of life. Women Win advances women’s rights through sport using the three pillars in their Theory of Change: to ignite the game, strengthen the team, and mobilise the fans. The second organization, Right to Play states that in a crisis, we protect the children with the power of play.
Now reflecting on her recent experience abroad, Bior responded to my email interview to impart key takeaways from her journey with you.
Follow her journey.
Bior logs the highlights of her trip on instagram.
Q: How does the workshop you attended, “Addressing Gender-Based Violence Through Sport,” approach and view this long standing issue of violence? What underlying message did you take away from it?
A: I learned that it truly “takes a village” to make change. I was incredibly moved by not only the young women that we met, but also the young men who are partners in this process.
The Aga Khan University professors have been pulling together research in light of this topic of using sport to end violence and as part of our itinerary they engaged us in talk on the subject. The research they conducted was incredible, and really brought to light how early gender based biases begin and how everyone plays a role.
To be truly successful, men and women partner with the community schools in activities run by Right to Play along with Women Win–known as Community Days. The activities involve asking straightforward questions about human rights such as, “Is it right to hit a woman?” Or “Does everyone have a right to education?” Followed by the open ended question, “How can we change this?”
Q: What specifically did you learn through the lens of applying sports to this social issue? How have you applied it as the Executive Director to your Sports-Based Youth Development organization: Beat the Streets Boston formerly known as Boston Youth Wrestling?
A: I thoroughly enjoyed how Right to Play follows their motto, “Protect, Educate, and Empower,” in everything that they did throughout the program exchange. Some of the lessons they strive to impart to youth are finding your strength from within and claiming a safe space.
Addressing these important principles early on to students at the elementary and middle school levels about social justice sets up a strong launch pad to build up their self-efficacy as they grow.
Previously, we have been amplifying similar messages through the UptoUs Sports model to our middle school youth but now I want to start the process sooner with more intention and direct content that sets them up for success from as early as the elementary level.
I realize that these gender-based issues are world issues and not just subjective to specific groups or areas. This program has redirected my efforts with renewed determination to consider, “How do we talk about these issues across the world?” Children have the right and capacity to learn skills in coping, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and more protective factors to give them a fighting chance.
Q: Did you and the other 34 participants on the weeklong trip have the opportunity to immerse yourselves in the Pakistani culture? What did you do and learn from living and interacting in this new culture?
A: We went to their neighborhoods, schools, and practices ending one of our nights eating with a family at their home in more intimate groups of four to share a meal and learn their amazing stories. We stayed at the same hotel as their famous cricket team, a very popular sport in the region. While we were there, our paths crossed with a sport-based historical event in the making. We discovered that back in 2009, a group of 12 gunmen fired upon the national Sri Lakan cricketers traveling on a bus near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. Now, ten years later they were back to compete in a test match for the first time. History was changing and I was there to meet it!
Q: How did you find (or get selected for) this amazing opportunity and why did you choose to go?
A: A partner organization, Wrestle Like a Girl as well as our National affiliate BTS National sent out the details for the exchange. I was inspired by the work that Women Win and Right To Play were doing and wanted to learn more about how others approached the injustices happening to girls across the world.
Previously, I had worked with Somali youth in Boston-teaching self-defense and wrestling. I knew that going on this exchange program would be a wonderful opportunity. For this reason together with my passion about approaching equity and combating gender based biases and violence is how I found myself as part of the selected team. The cohort that I traveled with all shared a passion for change. We quickly bonded and because we were eager to learn from each other, we continue to connect to this day.
Q: Do you believe this topic is still relevant in the US today? Why?
A: Yes, gender-based inequities still exist and we are fighting together as a nation to even the playing field on platforms such as the right to be a leader, to earn equal pay, and to play in sports with the same level of respect.
As one example, you have the recent USA women’s gymnastics news, which shined a stark light on sexual, emotional, and physical abuse on young women athletes with the expectation for top performance without due compensation.
I believe that a platform to speak up and not be silent is needed at every level in the U.S. because we do not talk about ourselves in the same manner as we do about stories we hear in other countries. The mindset is that there is a differentiation between our highly developed country and those of countries still catching up economically. However, we need to reset our mindset about gender-based inequalities locally too.
Moreover, this topic is applicable to our current inequities through an economic and health crisis as access to important sources during Covid-19 is not equally attainable.
Q: To end with a fun element of your experience, tell us what new food you enjoyed and a friendly interaction you had during the exchange!
A: I had a number of wonderful experiences during the exchange and participated in a wide variety of sports. One of the most memorable was creating a game with Wrestle Like a Girl fellow cohort, Tela– called wrestle-pong. We also played ping-pong with a group of Pakistani girls called Searching for Pearls, who put us all to shame!
Peshawar, Pakistan- The Absar Welfare Foundation organizes the Pakistani sports-based girl group Searching for Pearls, the girls represent a wide range of ages: six all the way to young adults. They competed with us in a series of activities; we lost miserably to them in a ping-pong match and just about every other activity.
As for food, I fell in love with all their food, especially, Paratha Bread. I could eat it every day! It is a flakey and light local flatbread that is different from other flatbreads like Naan and Roti.
About Beat the Streets Boston, DBA, Boston Youth Wrestling:
We are using wrestling as a tool and motivator. BTSB teaches youth to successfully overcome socio-economic challenges that lead to educational gaps, poor health and negative community relationships, imparting skills such as self reliance, discipline and commitment to others that apply both on and off the matt, in school and beyond.
To learn the latest updates from Beat the Streets Boston and see Bior’s photo collection of her U.S. Pakistan exchange abroad check our feeds on social media. For more information about Beat the Streets Boston visit: bostonwrestling.org.
Curious to see who else was on the exchange with Bior? Scroll down to see a list of all participating organizations. Click on the Women Win Foundation link to learn more about what you can do to address gender-based violence through sport.