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EmPower Play Toolkit

The EmPower Play Toolkit is a free, open source tool organizations can use to engage adolescent girls in topics around gender-based violence in their communities. This toolkit provides simple, play-based and youth-oriented ways for adolescent girls to explore and discuss gender equality, violence and aggression and what their roles are in changing attitudes and behaviors around violence against women in their communities. Additionally, the toolkit uses simple self-defense skills, either taught deliberately through targeted activities and sessions, or taught indirectly through playing sport, to help girls gain confidence in themselves and develop critical skills.

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The EmPower Play Toolkit helps organizations empower girls to build and develop and a foundation of practical skills and knowledge to address violence and aggression, with a focus on verbal and psychological skills. This program can be run as a stand-alone, or in conjunction with a sport or martial arts program. It is not a full force self-defense or martial arts curriculum in itself, both of which require certified trainers with years of experience. However, this toolkit can be a pathway that leads adolescent girls toward a more in-depth and comprehensive sport experience, which could include self-defense, martial arts and/or team sports. 
The EmPower Play Toolkit has 5 main objectives:
  • Provide a safe space for adolescent girls to speak about and explore sensitive topics and develop safe and supportive relationships
  • Introduce adolescent girls to concepts related to gender, gender equality and what it means to be a girl in their communities
  • Help adolescent girls identity forms of violence in their lives and in their communities
  • Develop important life skills that will help adolescent girls stand up to and speak out against violence and aggression in their community
  • Guide adolescent girls in taking action against violence and advocating for their right to live in a world free of violence 

The first section (Prepare) helps organizations start an internal conversation around what skills girls need to effectively stand up against types of violence and aggression and what the organization might need in terms of capacity and resources to provide a space for girls to learn those skills.
The second section (Practice) gives organizations 14 sessions that they can conduct with adolescent girls and young women in their communities. These sessions range from confidence building and communication and negotiation skills, to practical verbal and psychological techniques to defend oneself against violence and aggression. This section guides and supports facilitators with tips, best practices, additional resources and step-by-step instructions for the delivery of each session. 
The third section (Reflect and Play) allows organizations to reflect on their experience in implementing the curriculum and explore ways to develop pathways for girls to engage in sport, whether it be traditional team sports, further self-defense training or martial arts. 

Explain your idea in one sentence.

A free, open-source toolkit to help organizations teach girls self-defense techniques, risk mitigation tactics, negotiation skills and build self-confidence and awareness – it’s a tool for practical and social empowerment of girls to help them address violence.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

Adolescent girls are at a unique risk for experiencing gender-based violence in their communities, due to a variety of factors, including unequal gender power relations and attitudes about, and claims on, girls’ bodies and sexuality. Girls are not the problem. The blame is always on perpetrators and cultures that perpetuate violence.

Regardless, girls can be empowered to address this violence and learn how to negotiate around it to whatever extent is possible. They are not powerless victims, but rather have the agency to be active participants in their own safety. In order to do this, girls need safe space to talk about their experiences and explore the risks. They need social support, caring adults and explicit guidance to and build awareness, negotiation skills and confidence to address this violence. Adolescent girls need more opportunities to talk openly and explicitly about violence and build skills to negotiate it.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

Ultimately, the program will have an impact on three levels:
1. Individual (the adolescent girl participants in the program)
2. Peers and Family (family members and male/female peers of participants)
3. Community (the community in which the participants live)

The activities in this curriculum have been designed and developed for girls between the ages of 12 and 18. More importantly, the curriculum is for girls and young women going through a transformative period in their lives during which they are beginning to develop their own ideas about themselves, their own values and beliefs about gender norms, roles and expectations and are starting to form relationships with those around them.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

This toolkit is for organizations interested in using sport and play as a tool to address violence against girls and women in their community. Typically, these are women’s rights, health, development and/or sport organizations.

This curriculum should be used with girl only groups and should be adapted by organizations to fit their local context, so that the information and approach is as relevant as possible for their particular target audience. The curriculum should be delivered in safe girl only spaces by female facilitators who are trained on facilitating sensitive issues around gender-based violence and are either trained in dealing with gender-based violence or are supported by a gender-based violence counselor at each session.

Due to the sensitive nature of the sessions and topics discussed, organizations should also have strong referral processes and pathways in place for girls who have experienced violence or need additional counseling or help. Partnerships with local gender-based violence centers or counseling programs are highly encouraged.

Where should this idea be implemented?

The EmPower Play program can be implemented anywhere girls are at risk of violence – which basically equates to anywhere on this planet. Possible pilot partners are Youth Empowerment Foundation (Lagos, Nigeria), Naz Foundation (Delhi, India), Nari Uddug Kendra (Dhaka, Bangladesh), and Sadili Oval (Nairobi, Kenya).

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

Every tool we build at Women Win goes through a product development cycle that is iterative, collaborative and open. The EmPower Play toolkit was born out of a request from our women’s rights partners to build a play-based tool to address these issues with girls. For two years, we have been collecting best practice, talking to partners in Latin America, Asia and Africa about how they would want this to work. We are now past the Discover and Ideation phases, and are ready with a prototype toolkit.

In 2014, we would like to pilot the concept with 2-3 partners in different regions of the world. Specifically, our partners who work regularly with girls and have experimented with martial arts/self defense for addressing GBV with them.

Following the pilot, we will gather impact data and host a convening with pilot partners to share experience and help evolve the tool.

What might a day in the life of a community member interacting with your idea look like?

Most of Women Win’s program partner engage parents directly, as they are often the biggest barrier or accelerator to girls’ participation in a sport and empowerment program. We often hear that girls’ themselves go home from their sport + life skills sessions and share what they learned with their mothers – who have often not been taught about their rights and/or ever been given an opportunity to speak openly about violence. A typical day of a mother interacting with this could be that her daughter comes home. While preparing dinner, her daughter tells her about an activity she did today at her program. It was called “What’s Going On Around Me” and taught them about observing and listening to their gut feelings – their “intuition.” The daughter and mom talk about how this applies to their walk to the market or that one time that one of them didn’t listen to their intuition. The daughter teaches her mom the chant she learned that they do every session at the end – they hum it and continue chopping vegetables.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Genesis Etali

I love this initiative and I hope it can be replicated in Cameroon too. Its quite a very good tool and which can easily be adapted to various projects targeting women and girls. Sustain Cameroon would be so blessed to rally some support towards its program to empower child brides and potential at risk girls to end child, early and forced marriages in our rural communities.

Photo of Kavita Gonsalves

Hi there, I was wondering if you would be open to collaborating on building the life skills curriculum (goal programme) , with regards to our idea:

Photo of Women Win

Hi Kavita, we love your idea and would most definitely be open to collaborating on crafting a curriculum. We can even put you in touch with some cutting edge Indian organisations that we work with that could probably provide even more support in terms of developing a context appropriate and effective curriculum. Your work is really inspiring and I feel Women Win could learn a lot from you and the population of young women and girls you reach in one of the world's most vulnerable places.

Photo of Kavita Gonsalves

That would be absolutely great!!
This would be a great collaboration!!

Photo of luisa covaria

Great to see this collaboration. I'm very inspired every time I see people doing wonderful work expand their potential impact by sharing learnings. Keep up the great work and keep us posted of how things develop.

Photo of Bidisha Fouzdar

Love your idea. I just have 2 concerns: (1) without a face-to-face training, applications of the toolkit might (just might) prove to be slightly problematic. (2) how will local innovations in, say, augmenting mother-daughter relationships to make them more empowering for both, be inculcated by people applying the toolkit? Would love to hear your point of view on these concerns.

Photo of Women Win

Hi Bidisha, thanks so much for your questions.

Regarding concern 1, yes, we agree that face to face training is important to make sure organisations are implementing the toolkit in a safe way and have the necessary expertise and support to do so. Ideally, we would hold trainings for organisations interested and this is a big consideration for us as we move forward through the pilot phase. However, we also believe at Women Win that tools and resources should be available for the wider global community and that is why we put our tools online and free and open source, so anyone anywhere can access them and learn from them, as well as contribute their expertise to improve the tools themselves. With this said, there will be very clear disclaimers stating the criteria organisations should follow, or the capacities they must have, to implement this toolkit safely and effectively. We do not have resources to travel around the world training every organisation that is interested, however, we have a great network of our own programme partners already working in many of these regions that do have a high capacity to implement various types of programmes and who could conduct regional trainings for us. We love connecting local grassroots organisations within certain regions together because it allows for a lot more sharing of best practices and and builds regional expertise and capacity.

Regarding concern 2, we try very hard to collect local adaptations and innovations for all of our tools through our online platforms. We will do the same with this toolkit. We also will try to reach out to individual organisations to gather these innovations. We are throwing around some other ideas, if funding permits, to hold regional gatherings where organisations connect face to face and share innovations and adaptations. We are also open to other ideas of how to best gather the knowledge and learning of organisations who will be implementing, particularly because internet connections can be problematic in many parts of the world.

Photo of Kavita Gonsalves

Hi Women Win, the curriculum that has been put together and particularly,that it is in the open-source domain is what I find exciting.
A question, I have is- Is the toolkit designed to be conducted with other genders in mind? How are 'boys' and other sexual minorities part of the discussion in topics such as gender equality, gender roles, gender violence, etc?

Photo of Women Win

Hi Kavita, thanks so much for your comments and questions. Currently the sessions included in the toolkit are for adolescent girls only, creating a safe space for them to meet, discuss and grow. However, the toolkit as a whole emphasizes the need to engage the entire community, which includes boys, fathers, brothers etc. There are several components to the programme that give opportunities for the participants and facilitators to bring in speakers, create "green dots" or partners in safety within the community and recruit advocates within the community for a world free of violence against girls and women. The team at Women Win is convinced that the solution to end violence against girls and women must involve the entire community and that boys and men, as well as sexual minorities who often themselves are targets of violence, are an integral part of this solution.

In addition, the individual sessions themselves address alternate ideas regarding gender and sexuality and the sport component challenges gender norms and stereotypes, however, because this is a global toolkit, more in-depth discussions around sexual minorities would have to be considered on a case by case basis, and we can work with individual organisations to decide what level of discussion will be appropriate in their context and what specific topics to add to the session content. The toolkit and sessions are adaptable, and therefore, organisations can easily adapt the content and approach to what works best in their community or within their particular context. We will be using the pilot phase to really see what approaches work and what content we might be missing that we could add to help adolescent girls engage in rich and deep discussions around gender, violence and equality!

Photo of Anne Marie van Swinderen

Hi Women Win, I like your methodology and we will be looking for cooperations with other methodologies. We hope you will be interested in showing us in Colombia how to use (or adapt) your toolkit.

Photo of Women Win

Hi Anne Marie, we would love to support you in adapting the toolkit for your particular context once our pilot phasing is complete. I just read a bit about your contribution (Safe-ings Groups) and love the idea of helping women keep their money safe, particularly because economic independence is such an important step for girls' and women's broader empowerment and safety.

Photo of luisa covaria

Women Win,
I love the Empower Toolkit. It comes out of a clear need and the action plan for implementation is very clear.
What type of support do you need – that you currently don't have – to launch the pilot?

Photo of Women Win

Hi Luisa,

Thanks so much for your comment. We currently need support in looking for additional funding to launch the pilot with several of our programme partners and create a sustainable model based on what we learn so that the toolkit can be used as widely as possible in a cost effective way moving forward. We are also very interested in gathering experts in gender, violence against women and self defense to join our collaboration team on this project and give us more insight into how we can improve the toolkit.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Women Win

Thanks, we are honored!

Photo of Dalys Rodriguez

Great idea! I believe sports can help young girls to get in touch with themselves and build confidence. Helps them feel powerful and accomplished, develop strategic thinking, team work and a sense of belonging. I see you are mixing sports with psychological support and I think it's a great combination to ensure the intervention works. Women from communities with widespread violence, encounter violence in unimaginable ways: from something they can see to something they can experience and this affects the way children and young girls grow up and the way they see the world. Congrats to you and good luck!

Photo of Women Win

Hi Dalys, thank so much for your comments, we really appreciate the support. We have definitely seen first hand how violence affects adolescent girls around the world as well as how sport can be an incredibly powerful tool to help these girls stand up and take control of their own lives in situations of violence and aggression. We are really excited about this project!