Coaches Across Continents is a non-profit which partners with organizations internationally to promote sport, primarily soccer, for social change. SoccerNation’s Carrie Taylor had the opportunity to volunteer for CAC last year, spending three weeks in Zimbabwe and Zambia. She’s headed back this June for Uganda and Kenya. As a highlight to International Women’s Day on March 8th, she spoke with Nora Dooley and Judith Gates who run CAC’s Ask for Choice Program that focuses on women and girls empowerment through soccer.
Carrie Taylor: What is your background in soccer and with Coaches Across Continents?
Nora Dooley: Soccer has been alive in me since my body understood motion. I was always chasing a ball with my dad. Before I really understood what gender and policy were my dad would talk to me about Title IX. He was a runner and overall sport enthusiast, he inspired my abilities and drive. With my school projects he would steer me in the direction of Title IX, knowing that as soon as I got a whiff of its truth I would latch on. And latch I did… all the way to being a beneficiary of the bill playing for the women’s team at Columbia University… and on through the present battling on the front-lines of gender equity around the world. My dad would be proud.
I’ve been working for CAC for over three years, as soon as I touched sweaty turf on a CAC field in Indonesia I knew I had stumbled into something significant. CAC fulfills many self-satisfying needs; almost every day I have the opportunity to unite my passions for sport, learning, culture, and feeling like I am contributing to something revolutionary in human and societal development. I have only 26 years but it is, so far, my life’s honor to be part of this family.
Judith Gates: No background in soccer, other than years spent sitting in the stands watching Bill, my husband, play for Middlesbrough. I claim to be the only soccer wife of my time who could understand the offside rule. However, I am so physically dyslexic that I would trip over a soccer ball if you put it at my feet.
My background in CAC is as a board member, a strategist and a thinker. I have worked alongside Nick Gates, the founder, since the time CAC was an inspiring thought rather than a productive reality. I have been privileged to be part of his and the organizations thinking throughout. My educational rationale informed the CAC curriculum.
Nick and the CAC coaches brought this rationale to life. I was part of the inception and creation of ASK for Choice, but the program has spiraled beyond any orbit I could have envisaged. So my background has been in the background, marveling always at how CAC has breathed life and success into my philosophical tenets and theoretical wonderings.
Carrie Taylor: What is ASK for Choice?
Judith Gates: ASK for Choice is a gender equity and female empowerment program that CAC launched as their “commitment to action” in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative. Recognizing that women and girls are oppressed around the world, ASK for Choice is based upon an education rationale first explored in my doctoral research. This rationale suggests that cultural evolution has the potential for individuals to move from their inherited world based on the chance of their birth, through cultural certainties of an un-examined life, to the capacity to make choices based upon reflection and insight.
ASK for Choice is therefore an acronym signifying the development of Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge that empower individuals to make good Choices about their future lives. Attitudes emerge from a consideration of gender roles and through education. Female leadership and problem solving are the Skills which are developed, while Knowledge of gender policies is increased. Women’s and girls are thus empowered to make thoughtful women’s rights, entrepreneurial and health choices for themselves.
Carrie Taylor: Why is it important to you and for the girls and women in the world?
Nora Dooley: I was raised ignorant of certain privileges I had simply because of where and when I was born, and who I was born to. The ignorance, though, allowed this defiant sense of self-worth to thrive while ignorance was still innocent. And now with new consciousness rising up everywhere I look, every moment I take to reflect, I realize that self-worth was a gift I didn’t choose… so what do I do with it? I ASK for Choice – not for mine, but for any person that is denied that right, and today, we know the majority of those people are women and girls.
Judith Gates: Gender equity and female empowerment have defined much of my life’s work. From being a counselor at a Family Planning Clinic in the UK in the 1970s, to working extensively against domestic abuse in the Cayman Islands, to being a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood here in the USA, I have been a social activist championing women’s rights for over 40 years. ASK for Choice is important to me because it crystallizes and puts into practice values which I hold to be true. ASK adds immeasurable to my sense of optimism as I seek to continue to contribute to societies and individuals around the world.
As a project to combat gender based inequities and empower women, ASK for Choice is important for women and girls around the world. The catalogue of inequities is long. Societies, men women and children, would benefit immeasurably, including economically, socially and culturally, if these inequities were addressed.
Carrie Taylor: How does the curriculum that you have developed impact coaches?
Judith Gates: Coaches learn the power of sport to have social impact, to foster social change, to create a community legacy.
Nora Dooley: The curriculum is a living, breathing beast. It has been developed over many years of experience coaching sport for social impact. We have 400+ games and counting that fall into various categories of social issues. And all of the games can be easily adapted to different sports and different themes depending on the context and the will of the learners.
Our model is Self-Directed Learning (SDL) so the games create the structure and environment for participants to share their minds and the key issues in their communities. We encourage anyone we work with to adapt the games, add their own flavors, identify issues and create their own activities.
Carrie Taylor: Can you give an example of an activity that you use?
Nora Dooley: We use different countries in our ASK curriculum to share facts about women’s realities around the world. And then the games fall under the categories of Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, and Choice.
So I will pick, “Rwanda for Attitudes” a traditional pitch is setup with two teams. But the field is split in half and each team decides who will be in the attacking half and who defending. Once they position their players nobody can cross the line. After playing with this restriction we add a player on each team who holds a cone (or another visual) and can now cross the line. We love progressions at CAC because players live the differences.
After playing again we might pause and ask a few questions: How did it feel to have the cone? Did you share the cone? Why or why not? What might the cone represent? What gives you freedom/opportunity in your life? What do you think is your responsibility if you have the cone on the field? What about if you have privileges and opportunities in life? And then play again challenging the players to implement some of the ideas/solutions discussed.
During the next progression the coach can also add and take away cones to see how players respond to different realities and opportunities. The game can go several directions depending on where the players take it – we have had discussions around education, information, opportunity, and how the layers of privilege in a society interplay with our freedoms. Plus it’s an excellent soccer game!
Carrie Taylor: What types of things are implemented in the communities that you have worked with?
Nora Dooley: Our network consists of everything from governments and international organizations to grassroots sports clubs and women’s groups. Some countries are implementing our curriculum into their school systems, some organizations have created their own curricula based on ours and our Self-Directed Learning methodology, and others take full advantage of our online educational platforms. As we move into a new chapter of process consultancy for our implementing partners we have a menu of strategic resources that they can pull from to design, develop, and implement their own pathway to social impact. One of the most fascinating parts of our work is facilitating the interaction between our partners as they share successes and ideas for growth. There are moments when I’m honestly moved to tears as I feel the heartbeat of our work from some great physical distance.
Judith Gates: The communities we work in respond to CAC’s curriculum based upon their specific circumstances and their locally identified needs. So implementation ranges from community action against female gender mutilation in Kenya, to women’s football teams in communities in DRC, where previously only men played, to discussion on gender stereotypes and women’s and girls’ rights in every country in which CAC works.
Carrie Taylor: What types of things are you doing for International Women’s Day?
Nora Dooley: Every year we design a free resource packet of games from our curriculum to distribute in over 100 countries. And this year we’re going full ASK for Choice on the world. During the build-up to March 8th we have been holding webinars and sharing resources for communities to design and develop their own women’s rights policies to bring to life on IWD. The curriculum set up to help with the implementation and the policy will ideally live well beyond the day. We’ve had some incredible feedback on policy ideas and the plans are trickling in from our international partners.
Carrie Taylor: How many women and girls have you impacted through #ASK?
Nora Dooley: As of January 2017 our numbers:
- 4,615 educators, 989 females (23%), 90 implementing partners, 28 countries, 1,406,331 children
- Policies designed in Haiti, Perú, Zimbabwe, Congo, Malawi, South Africa, Kenya, Zanzibar, Armenia
- That’s not to mention International Women’s Day 2016 which saw:
- 97 countries, 84,000 educators from 1,000 partner organizations, Over 1 million children.
- We don’t have the exact number of girls but we can likely extrapolate the 23%. That seems low but in such a male-dominated field (literally) – we take 23% as a success! And the growth of and demand for ASK for Choice shows us the massive potential impact for 2017.
Carrie Taylor: Can you share any specific success stories or share feedback from participants?
Judith Gates: At the end of a week’s program in DRC I was embraced by a rather large woman. Her words “Thank you mama Judith. You have told me I have rights.”
Nora Dooley: One of our ASK for Choice leaders in Lima, Perú wrote this after On-Field training last year. She envisioned her country’s future if ASK for Choice spread.
Carrie Taylor: What is your biggest goal for Ask for Choice in 2017?
Judith Gates: To work further with local communities to help them create their own women’s rights policy and then to support them as they bring their policy to life within their community. Every life impacted in whatever way is a reason to celebrate.
Nora Dooley: At the moment we need to ensure the financial sustainability of ASK for Choice. As we run programs and work with more and more women and men engaged in gender equity, we are simultaneously working extremely hard to secure longevity. But beyond that, my long-term goal is that we have a diverse group of women as regional ASK for Choice directors in charge of year-round implementation and reporting.