Why Girls’ Spaces Are Critical

By Toyo Ajibolade

“Girls as young as seven are becoming more self-conscious, losing confidence, and giving up sport as a result” – Huffington Post UK

I’ve seen and read plenty of similar articles over the past few years and each time, the ages of the girls are getting younger. These articles and reports are written from different perspectives and various geographic regions, yet all echo the same staggering message. Girls as young as seven years old are suffering from body confidence issues, preventing them from engaging in physical activity. How can you fully enjoy all the amazing qualities and opportunities that sports, and recreation have to offer when you are lacking self-confidence and are overly conscious about the way your body looks?

Through my experience working with girls, I have discovered quite simply, that girls need a space  – their space – where they can express their unique experiences and challenges. That is why I created Lady Ballers Camp, a girl-centred organization providing recreational and accessible basketball and sport programming to youth, particularly those from marginalized and racialized communities. As a girl-centred program, it has become critical for us to cultivate this space for girls’ voices. It is, in fact essential to the attainment of safe and nurturing environments that girls feel confident to share their unique experiences and develop creative and empowering ways by which to overcome common hurdles.

Girls and young women aspire to be active members of the community while becoming role models to their younger counterparts.

Where else can young women feel confident to participate in physical activities, as well as crucial discussions, if not in a space designed specifically for them with their needs in mind? It is very much through this collective approach that they discover and cultivate their own skills and abilities in an atmosphere of support. If these spaces are not easily accessible, young women may lose the ability to freely analyze their experiences and gain the confidence they need to challenge harmful societal labels. Their valuable insights will become easily discredited and lost in favor of dominant narratives that do not recognize the important ideas brought forward by a gendered perspective. This has real and lasting generational implications for young girls as they mature into women and must navigate a society that is complicit in demeaning and dismissing the contributions of girls and women.

When we create programs for girls, we invest in their goals and abilities and enable them to realize their full potential. Girls and young women aspire to be active members of the community while becoming role models to their younger counterparts. Investing in girl-specific programming is the smartest way to ensure the enduring strength of the girl-child and development of further generations of confident and motivated young women. For me, personally witnessing girls overcome internalized societal limitations – and become confident, successful young women – is one of the greatest pleasures of founding Lady Ballers Camp.

Toyo Ajibolade is YWCA Toronto’s 2018 Young Woman of Distinction Award recipient. She founded Lady Ballers Camp and is an inspirational role model, mentor, and coach. Currently Toyo is a third year Marketing Management student at Ryerson University.