Girls learn how to play tennis at one of the tennis courts in Sabratha rehabilitated by UNDP with support from the European Union. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2020, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released the findings of a Gender Social Norms Index, which uses data from the World Values Survey and covers 81 percent of the world’s population. According to this index, 91 percent of men and 86 percent of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economics, education, and physical integrity.

Despite real progress in closing gender inequalities in basic areas of development like education and health and in the removal of legal barriers to political and economic participations, gender gaps still exist between men and women. This bias against gender equality is typically greater in the areas that most challenge power relations.

Adhering to a cultural bias on gender roles, in Libya, women were only allowed to be educated in the fields of health care, administration and light industrial work. This led to the exclusion of women from the political and economic fields.

What about sports?

All around the world, sport is considered a powerful tool for uniting people, crossing boundaries, and developing tolerance, respect and social inclusion.

Even though sport unites people of all genders, colors, and religions all around the world, in Libya, it has not totally overcome the gender barrier yet.

According to Ms. Hamida Abu Algasim Ewshah, member of Sabratha Municipal Council, women still do not have the same opportunities to enjoy sports in her city.

“Due to our social norms, women need to have their own space where to practice sport, and the conflict did not help at all,” she said.

''The municipality allocated a plot next to the Tennis Academy for establishing a women sport complex. But many efforts are still to be made before seeing the launch of the project. As a matter of fact, sport for women is not yet considered as a basic right, '' she said.

Ms Hamida Abu Algasim Ewshah, member of Sabratha Municipal Council, gives a prize to the champion of a local tennis tournament at Sabratha Tennis Academy. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin


No room for tennis in the middle of the conflict

Sabratha Tennis Academy was founded in 2007. This was a response to a request from a big number of tennis players, mainly men. It was the first academy of its kind in Libya.

In order to motivate a great number of people and especially the youth to come to play tennis, the Academy initiated a training programme in several schools in the city.

''We implemented a mini tennis programme in many schools in Sabratha and this attracted many young players who became champions later. I can mention some of them such as Mohammed Kamel Al-Jamal who won junior and senior championships in Libya and participated in many international tournaments,'' explained Abdulsalam.

Following violent clashes that occurred in Sabratha in 2017, many infrastructures were damaged in the city, including the tennis courts.

''It was a hard time for me when I stopped playing.  The courts in Sabratha were ruined and I thought about enrolling in another club,'' declared Mohammed Kamal Al-Jamal, 23 years old, tennis player and trainer at Sabratha Tennis Academy.

Mohammed started playing tennis when he was eight. He walked on his father’s steps, Kamal Al-Jamal, who was a tennis player and is now an international trainer.

“We never have before enough tennis courts to practice, neither enough resources," said Mr. Abdulsalam Sultan, Director of Sabratha Tennis Academy. "The situation worsened when the courts were damaged during the last war in 2017. Most of the players stopped playing completely or they went to other cities to continue to do so, " he added.

Tennis for all, including women

The tennis courts before and after renovation. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin

Aimed at supporting access to basic services, community security and economic recovery in Libya, the European Union (EU) funded “Strengthening Local Capacities for Resilience and Recovery” project that is being implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Local Governance and the municipalities of Tripoli, Sabratha, Sebha, Murzuq, Benghazi and AlKufra.

The project is supporting local peace actions, promoting dialogue across different communities, rehabilitating critical infrastructures and supplying equipment. One of the initiatives undertaken was the renovation of four tennis courts and the provision of sport equipment at the Tennis Academy.

After this initiative, the sport institution was able to resume its activities. It opened its doors to junior and senior players, including girls and boys, men and women.

''Women in Sabratha want to play sport, including tennis, and the courts that have been renovated by UNDP with funds from the European Union have motivated them to participate in these games, '' stated Ms. Hamida Abu Algasim Ewshah, member of Sabratha Municipal Council.

Despite still facing barriers related to social norms, the rehabilitation of the four tennis courts has opened new opportunities for women to practice tennis.

“The Academy is still mainly for men, but after the rehabilitation, something has already changed. One day per week, the courts are exclusively for the use of young girls and women,” explained Hamida.

The facility is also allowing again young people from Sabratha and surroundings to socialize through tennis and forget about the crisis in the country. During summertime, the Academy organizes special sessions for junior players, girls and boys.

''It is an opportunity to attract young people and help them to focus on sport rather than staying in the streets with many risks of being involved in illegal activities, '' declared Abdulsalam.

Workers repairing the tennis courts at Sabratha Tennis Academy. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin


Looking forward to rising the Libyan flag

"Sabratha Tennis Academy is not only training beginners and adults and helping them to continue playing but is also organizing championships at the highest level, as we have tennis courts with international specifications and full equipment," explained Kamal Al-Jamal, father of Mohammed Kamal Al-Jamal.

Mohammed started playing again in Sabratha after the rehabilitation in early 2019. He was so excited and motivated that he won the title of national champion in 2019.

"UNDP and the EU brought happiness to me. I am achieving my dreams playing again here. They renovated the tennis courts in a very short time with international specifications and brought life back again to Sabratha Tennis Academy", he stated with a great smile.

In addition to playing tennis, Mohammed enjoys training children. "We have already started training junior players three days a week and the number reaches twenty now. Girls are also very motivated." he explained.

"These facilities are offering an opportunity to our players to emerge and represent the country in several competitions. The Municipal Council is ready to support them,” declared Mr. Moftah Elbrashni, Sabratha Mayor during the official inauguration of the infrastructure.

“Women want to benefit more from those sport facilities. We hope that UNDP and EU continue to be on our side so that we, as women, can have more access to them,” declared Hamida from the Sabratha Municipal Council.

 “We are able to host local tennis tournaments in good conditions. One of our players won the title of national champion, and I think this will be a great motivation for many young women and men,” said Abdulsalam.

Boys and girls attend a tennis training session at Sabratha Tennis Academy. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin


In Sabratha, UNDP-EU partnership has also rehabilitated the High Institute for Science and Technology, the Health Center, the Department of Ambulance and Emergency at the Teaching Hospital and the basketball court, ensuring that women have access to all these facilities.


Mohammed Kamel Al-Jama, Libyan national champion in 2019, trains children at Sabratha Tennis Academy rehabilitated by UNDP with support from the EU. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdullah Hussin
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