From where I stand: “It is important to show women athletes can be anywhere and can do anything”

Raphaela Barbosa, a handball player from the northern region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, aspires to play for Brazil’s national team one day. She believes that female athletes must be more visible, so that society changes its attitudes about men and women.

“I started playing handball at school when I was 12, and haven’t stopped since. When I joined the UN Women program I found a safe space where we could discuss various issues that impact our day-to-day lives, and it gave me confidence to pursue my dreams. Ultimately, the program taught me feminism, gave me clarity about what feminism meant for me and how it was important for me.

Handball has taught me everything. It teaches you that you’re not alone; to reach your goals, you need to work with your team. Everyone needs to give their best for the collective goal. And this showed me that we need to help each other [even outside the handball court] to be able to live better lives.

In Rio, we face a lot of violence—fear of mugging and shooting is common. But this urban violence has a gendered face. Girls are afraid to wear what they want because they might be harassed, raped or even killed. This fear takes away from girls’ freedom to be who they want, or to go where they want, and so they end up staying at home. If you need to go out, you have to plan your route carefully, before it gets dark. Girls often feel that they shouldn’t go out alone.

The girls on the handball team are brave; we call ourselves “the warriors”. We know that women athletes have struggled to get where they are. It’s important that their achievements are visible. It is important to show that women athletes can be anywhere and can do anything [as well as men athletes], so that society sees there is no difference between men and women.

People need to respect themselves and each other, treat each other as equals. We don’t need to minimize the value of the other person to achieve our goals. We’re all equal.”

SDG 5: Gender equality

Raphaela Barbosa, 17, is a handball player from the northern region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was a participant in ‘One Win Leads to Another’, a programme to empower young women and girls through sport in Brazil by UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2016. Recently, Barbosa spoke at the United Nations in the context of the International Day of the Girl about how sport has empowered her and her family. Her story relates to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and ensure equal opportunities for leadership. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly recognizes sport as an important enabler for development and women’s empowerment.