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Several programs under Team Up work to address gender-based violence through sport / NRL Fiji

This article was first published on as part of their recent call for articles on reshaping the future of sport and development

By Roshika Deo, Team Up

In the Pacific, sports are increasingly being used as a development tool to address gender-based violence, especially given the high prevalence of violence against women and girls. However, not including feminist approaches in program designs risks limiting the effectiveness of these programs.

This article introduces two key feminist approaches that should be considered in the design of sport for development programs that seek to address gender-based violence – intersectionality and decolonisation.


Incorporating intersectionality in sport for development programs means understanding and examining how different social identities intersect with each other to produce unique forms of oppression, and how this relates to power relations within the greater socio-political environment.

For instance, a woman playing sports may experience sexism based on her identity as a woman. A woman from a minority ethnic group may experience racism and sexism in sports, and additionally these two identities intersect to produce a specific experience of oppression and discrimination. 

In fact, a person may be oppressed in one context and the same person can also be privileged in another context, because of the same social identities.

Intersectionality recognises that social identities are fluid and socially constructed. 

However, discrimination and oppression cannot be properly understood by prioritising only one factor, such as gender or disability. Experiences are better understood by looking at all social identities as equally important, for instance looking at ethnicity, class, age and sexual orientation in addition to gender and disability, as one identity cannot be prioritised over others. 

Intersectionality strengthens prevention programs and allows for root causes of gender-based violence to be addressed through examining and transforming systems and structures (eg patriarchy, neo-colonialism and heteronormativity) that support and perpetuate discrimination and oppression. 

Intersectionality works across multiple levels in societies and focuses on the changes needed at individual, social, systemic and institutional levels. 

Understanding intersectionality and incorporating it in sport for development programs allows for resources to be more evenly distributed and advances social justice.


Another feminist approach that can enhance sport for development programs that are designed to address gender-based violence is decolonisation. This is closely linked to intersectionality, given the engagement with power relations and structures, and deconstructing neo-colonialism. 

Reflections around power and privilege need to take place to better understand Pacific Island communities and their colonial histories. This process requires reflection on whose knowledge and experience determines the process and outcomes of sport for development programs, what knowledge matters, and why. 

Sport for development programs to address gender-based violence should be grounded in the lived experiences, knowledge and leadership of Pacific Island people and communities. The autonomy and agency of violence survivors need to be respected and included. 

Programs should be responsive and relevant to the needs of Pacific people and seek to rebalance the current social, economic and political paradigms of power.

Incorporating intersectionality and decolonising sport for development programs are two critical approaches for sustainable and effective change. However, more discourse, research and shifts are needed to understand, identify and incorporate intersectionality and decolonisation in sport for development programs.

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