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Empowering women through sports

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WOMEN WITHOUT BORDERS: Girls from fishing communities in Chennai learning to swim at the Anna swimming pool.
WOMEN WITHOUT BORDERS: Girls from fishing communities in Chennai learning to swim at the Anna swimming pool.

Special Correspondent

Austrian voluntary organisation links groups in three nations

CHENNAI: When they say Women without Borders (WwB), they mean it quite literally.

An Austrian voluntary organisation committed to supporting women in politics and civil society has managed to empower and link groups of women in Afghanistan, Rwanda and Chennai through an ordinary, yet powerful link: sports.

"You may ask why sports. Well, it is challenging, adventurous, gives you strength and self-confidence. It is very important for women to risk this first step to establishing another relationship to their bodies," says Edit Schlaffer, chairperson, Women without Borders. While it has been basketball in Afghanistan and football in Rwanda, in Chennai, it is swimming.

Again, why swimming? "When we began working with women in the tsunami-hit areas, we discovered to our surprise that they could not swim. It was one of the reasons a large number of women died during the tsunami," says Archana Kapur of WwB. Clearly, it was a great idea, judging by the response. Thirty children enrolled initially but the number swelled to 50 on Thursday when training began at the Anna Swimming Pool on the Marina. In the TTDC swimming pool in Mamallapuram, another 30 women jumped into the water. So, volunteers of WwB have come to Chennai to train women and girls belonging to the fishing community in swimming. Despite a bit squeamish about wearing swimming costumes, the women were keen to pursue their training and improvised their swimsuits in ingenious ways.

The swimming classes have been taken up with the full support of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Kapoor says, giving the Authority a good measure of the credit for letting the project get under way. This is more than a swimming lesson, says Ms. Schlaffer. It is part of a leadership training programme. "We are trying to find ways to multiply the project in order that more women benefit." Entering the competitive sporting arena may be contemplated in future.

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