The Use of Sport Initiatives to Promote Human Rights in Palestine
This post, by Asil Said, first appeared on the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Sport blog, Sport Matters. Academy of Sport Director, Professor Grant Jarvie, is a member of the Global Justice Academy Management Group.
Books and Boxers and the Right to Movement are but two interventions aiming to make a difference to the lives of youth in Palestine. This Academy of Sport-Sport Matters blog provides an evidenced insight into the struggle for sport as a human right within Palestine.
Sport, Palestine and the International Community
Sport and physical activity has international recognition as a simple, low cost and effective tool for development, and a means of achieving national and international development goals. The United Nations Agenda 2030 has provided sport with a mandate to contribute to social change.
In Palestine, due in part to the charged political situation and unrest in the region, sport has a significant opportunity and potential to be used as a tool for social change, promoting values such as gender equality, racial equality, health promotion, education, human rights awareness and social cohesion.
Sport has not claimed a position of priority within Palestinian policy agendas and it remains one of the least funded, supported and regulated sectors of development.
This is perhaps surprising given that youth (ages 15-29) comprise 30% of the total Palestinian population. All children and youth under the age of 29 comprise over 50% of the population.
The lack of sport activities and initiatives has contributed to an unhealthy environment that has led to participation in conflict and/or criminal activity.
Sport and Human Rights:
Participation in sport and physical activity is a recognised right to which people are entitled:
- Article 1 of the Revised International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity an Sport adopted by UNESCO’s General Assembly (2015) states that:
“The practice of physical education, physical activity and sport is a fundamental right for all”.
- Article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms the right of persons with disabilities to:
“Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport”.
- Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that:
“Children have the right to relax, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities”.
- Article 10 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states men and women should have:
“the same opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education”;
- and Article 13 states that:
women have the “right to participate in recreational activities, sports and all aspects of cultural life”.
- Sports has more recently been recognised by the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee for its active role in contributing to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Sport and physical activity is also an important facilitator of a number of other internationally recognized human rights, including:
- The right to participate in cultural life, enshrined in Article 27 of the UDHR and Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
- The right to health, enshrined in Article 25 of the UDHR, Article 12 of the ICESCR, Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Article 11 and 12 of CEDAW.
- The right to rest and leisure, included in Article 24 of the UDHR and Article 7 of the ICESCR.
With the goal of increasing the participation of young people in sport as a human right and using it to assist in the achievement of human rights for youth in Palestine, many private initiatives, (led mainly by NGOs, local community organizations and individual athletes) have advanced successful interventions linking human rights to sports and youth in Palestine.
Books and Boxers:
ElBarrio Gym is a for-profit business established in 2016 aiming to enable and assist sport in Palestine. The initiative ‘Books and Boxers’ focuses on male adolescents in Ramallah’s poorest public schools (ages 13-16). It teaches boxing through a programme implemented with the help of the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
The programme is implemented with the aim of lowering high school dropout rates in the city of Ramallah, which is 15% higher than the reported 2.4% dropout rate for males enrolled in secondary education institutions in Palestine. With a violent culture surrounding such areas and public schools, ElBarrio wanted to use sport as a means to an end and to create a shift in the way boys felt about education.
In addition to boxing training, ElBarrio Gym looked to provide psychological support for the participants, giving them the privacy and space to share their feelings and thoughts, as well providing academic and educational support to sustain enrolment in school.
The programme hopes to reiterate the success with boys by targeting female students of public schools not only working towards lowering dropout rates but also shifting socially constructed barriers and perceptions related to female participation in martial arts and violent sports.
Nader Jayousi, the boxing coach responsible of the programme stated in an interview:
“The programme aims to create a safe space for the kids to practice sport, release their anger and learn that being active can support them and offer them an alternative future from the one they think they will have”.
Left: a picture taken from the after school program ‘Books and Boxers’ implemented by ElBarrio Gym in Ramallah, aiming to lower the dropout level of secndary school boys using the sport of Boxing. Source: elbarrio.ps
The Right to Movement Palestine (RTM) is an entrepreneurial, non-profit, social start-up, that is part of a global running community aiming to run for the basic human right to freedom of movement. The initiative was named after article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State and everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
In Palestine, RTM laid the foundation for what is now the annual Palestinian Marathon in the city of Bethlehem. The location highlights movement restriction imposed by Israeli occupation and the fact that West Bank Palestinians are unable to find an unbroken distance of 42.1km in any of their major cities.
The marathon runners must turn around after arriving at a checkpoint to complete the official distance.
In addition to their daily running tours in different parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, RTM aspire to establish a running culture in the Palestinian community through empowering young people to practice sports, supporting women’s access to sport and reinforcing the right to physical activity.
Diala Said, one of the organisers of the group in the city of Ramallah said in an interview
“Around the world, you can just put on your shoes and go running, this inspired me to claim not only my own right to move, but the right of my fellow Palestinians to exercise and move freely”.
Right: a picture taken from the 2016 Palestinian Marathon organized by RTM, showing Palestinian athletes running alongside the Israeli “Separation Wall” in the city of Bethlehem, to highlight the lack of right to movement in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Source; Right to Movement Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/righttomovement.org/
To fully utilise sport as a tool for human rights, a change in national and international policies is fundamental. This change starts with increasing the involvement, investment and communication between sporting and human rights organizations, which will in turn support the sustainability of sports initiatives while emphasising a range of individual and collective benefits associated with participation in sport as a human right.
In addition, advancing widening access to sport programmes and initiatives (current ones and ones to be developed) to financial, institutional and development support as well as effectively activating government resources needs to be fought for.
A recognition of the role that sport can play in advancing human rights within the Palestinian community needs to take place alongside more deliberate and direct strategies and policies working towards the mainstreaming of sport.