Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport


The report Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport: A Handbook for Policy Makers and Sports Practitioners was published by UNESCO and UN Women in 2023. It was authored by Mary Liao and Katherine Craig with support from Laurie Silverberg.

The handbook brings attention to the fact that one in three women worldwide experiences some form of physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, a figure that highlights the widespread nature of this issue. In relation to sports, nearly 21 per cent of professional women athletes have experienced sexual abuse as a child, which is almost double the rate among male athletes.

Recent stories by survivors and journalists have led to, in some cases, to the introduction of new laws. However, very few countries have specific legislation to address this issue and most sports organisations lack the necessary systems to prevent and address such violence, the handbook states. The document highlights gaps in existing policies and advocates for the use of sport in promoting positive social change.

The 120-page report is divided into six chapters: Understanding Violence Against Women and Girls (Chapter 1); Understanding the Sports Ecosystem (Chapter 2); Manifestations of Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport (Chapter 3); Laws, Policies and Initiatives Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls in Sport (Chapter 4); Prevention and Education (Chapter 5); and Reporting and Resolution (Chapter 6). Following these, the report carries sections titled ‘Conclusion’ and ‘Epilogue: Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Through Sport’.


  1. The report references the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) to define violence against women and girls as ‘any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women or girls. It can include threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’

  2. The authors point out that certain groups, including women and girls from rural or indigenous communities, women of colour, those living in poverty, women with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ individuals, face heightened risks of violence. Acknowledging and addressing these varying levels of risk requires considering the multiple and intersecting identities and experiences of women and girls.

  3. The report notes that athletes face multiple forms of violence including sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, online or digital violence, economic abuse; and bullying and microaggressions.

  4. The report mentions the Essential services package for women and girls subject to violence launched jointly by several UN agencies and the RESPECT women framework as relevant tools for sports practitioners and policy makers.

  5. The sports ecosystem includes international sports federations, national Olympic committees, athletes' unions, sponsors, fans and nonprofits among others. The report discusses that the challenges in partnering with these entities revolve around navigating their diverse priorities, governance structures, and levels of commitment. However, opportunities lie in leveraging their influence, resources and networks to promote gender equality.

  6. The report underscores that the risks of violence are heightened during of mega sporting events (MSEs). Girls and women are disproportionately affected by these risks, including trafficking and prostitution, harassment and violence from visiting spectators as well as discriminatory treatment of women fans.

  7. The report recommends fostering a systematic safeguarding culture in sports by implementing comprehensive policies, conducting regular training and awareness programs, establishing clear reporting mechanisms, and ensuring accountability through oversight and enforcement.

  8. The report also explores the issue of underreporting and how victims, survivors and whistleblowers hesitate to report instances of violence due to fear of retaliation in their personal and professional lives.

  9. Citing examples of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the Netherlands Olympic Committee and the Netherlands Sports Confederation (NOC*NSF) helpline, the authors stress on the importance of creating essential services centred on the survivors.

  10. As per the handbook, response mechanisms for violence in sports should offer the survivors a ‘safe space’ wherein their thoughts may be heard without judgment. They should acknowledge the pain and suffering of the individuals and ensure that perpetrators of violence are held accountable.

  11. The handbook encourages the challenging of violence against women and girls prevalent in the general society using sport programming. It says that having athletes and other sport personalities speak about issues like gender equality can aid in transforming public opinion on violence against women and girls.

  12. Highlighting sports for development (S4D) programmes including Maitrayana and Slum Soccer in India, the handbook advocates for the use of sports to combat gender-based violence. These programmes tackle gender stereotypes and inequalities and empower girls and women, the handbook notes.

    Focus and Factoids by Ishan Tyagi.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Authors: Mary Liao and Katherine Craig
Editor: Laurie Silverberg


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and UN WOMEN


24 Jul, 2023