Last week, the New York Times reported on how young girls of color in metropolitan public schools don’t have the same access to participating in sports as young boys. This is in part because public schools low on funding cannot afford to support after-school sports and physical education programs, nor can their students necessarily pay for the cost of sports gear and uniforms. But the disparity in girls’ participation in sports is also due in part to low-income or immigrant families who rely on their girls to be at home and baby-sit or help with chores. These families are unable to see sports participation as anything but a luxury, and depend on their daughters to assist in domestic work. The article reports on girls who are eager to be involved in school sports but are prohibited from attending away games or regularly attending practice.
Young girls are caught in the midst of both poorly funded educational programs as well as the realities of gender roles and socio-economic-based decisions. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive Survey, about half of all girls and boys living in the suburbs consider themselves to be “moderately involved” in sports, compared to 36% of girls and 56% of boys in cities. This disparity does more than merely stifle young girls who are interested in sports – failure to provide adequate physical education programs and properly encourage models of well-being can lead to health issues later on in life: I recently wrote about a study that shows women of color are disproportionately affected by heart disease, obesity, and high cholesterol. These findings correlate with a study published in October by the Women’s Sports Foundation, which reports that girls of color are doubly affected by race and gender discrimination in the pursuit of athletics (PDF) and are less involved in school sports than any other youth group.
It’s important that along with Title IX reinforcement, legislation is created that forces high schools to report gender breakdowns with regards to funding allocation and sports participation. Young girls of color need to be introduced to sports at an ealier age to prevent dropping out of physical education activities later on in life. Changing public education institutions and providing community outreach will help to provide young girls of color with the resources and opportunities they need to be involved in something that they might really enjoy.