Youth Centers Drop Women Athletes from their List of Concerns by Hager Hisham

Country/area: Egypt

Organisation: ARIJ Network, Infotimes

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 23 Dec 2020

Credit: Hager Hisham

Project description:

The investigation reveals the failure of the Egyptian government, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports, to provide a suitable environment for Egyptian women to play sports in youth centers. This happened in various governorates of Egypt, specially in rural areas and Upper Egypt where there are rarely alternatives, and is discriminatory against women as it deprives them of the opportunity to play sports. Although youth centers account for 85% of all sport facilities in Egypt, there was a clear absence of strategies needed to be taken by the government to increase women’s participation in sports in youth centers.

Impact reached:

The investigation caused discussions to arise in the athletes’ community and those responsible for sports in Egypt. In response to his statement in the plenary session of Parliament, MP Sahar Talaat Mostafa used the most prominent figures in the investigation to ask the Minister of Youth and Sports about the steps needed to correct the situation and create a suitable environment for women to increase their turnout in youth centers. This is a big shift after this topic was under-reported and did not receive much attention in the media or in government plans and statements regarding women’s sports.

Community wise, the investigation created a different narrative from the mainstream and stereotypical one that states that Egyptian women are not that interested in sports exclusively because of customs and traditions. By analyzing government data from the past 10 years, the investigation proves that the negligence of women in youth centers contributed to their reluctance to benefit from their activities and facilities. It is important to note that youth centers represent 85% of all sport facilities In Egypt, and they didn’t provide privacy for women while practicing sports nor did they provide a training team of women. This contradicts the legal definition of these centers, which exist to serve youth without discrimination while providing their activities for a symbolic fee.

Most importantly, the investigation turned an issue that was on the sidelines into the spotlight and it became a debatable topic during the questioning of the Egyptian parliamentarians to the Minister of Youth and Sports under the dome of Parliament. It also created awareness of a fundamental part of the problem regarding the reluctance of many women to practice sports in youth centers, which are the most widespread sports facilities In Egypt with affordable prices for most citizens.

Techniques/technologies used:

I used the OCR application and data scraping programs from PDF files like Tabula to scrape sports activity data related to youth centers during a time period of 10 years. This data gets annually published by the Central Statistical Organization in Egypt. Using Microsoft Excel, I cleaned and organized the data, then I analyzed it to answer the basic questions of the investigation. Using phone interviews and Microsoft Excel again, I created a database with a sample of youth centers in Egypt to reveal that at least half of them did not provide sport activities for women over 18 years old.

I then used Flourish’s website to create graphs for the investigation, and through several phone calls and field visits (within the limits of what was possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic), I managed to speak with a number of sources related to the story, like affected women, experts on the topic, and government officials. Lastly, I used Google’s advanced search to find studies or previous journalistic stories that support this investigation’s hypothesis and its results, as well as to help put the topic in a logical context to explain the results of the data analysis.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult part was developing a methodology where the hypothesis of the investigation could be proven. It was a challenge to prove that women were descrimnated against and neglected by not having a suitable environment for them to practice sports in youth centers. Although most public data available from official statistical centers in Egypt prove that this problem existed, I still had to prove that the reason behind women’s reluctance to join youth centers was the negligence of the administrators.

Using a database provided by the Ministry of Youth and Sports that included the names and locations of youth centers across Egypt, I chose a sample of 54 youth centers across 14 governorates using the random multistage sampling method and contacted them to ask about the sports activities available for a girl over 18 years old. The results revealed that at least more than half of them didn’t provide activities for women and didn’t account for them.

Then came the hurdle of finding enough information to explain the results of the data analysis, like the reason behind why the number of female athletes is affected by the number of female coaches, or the correlation between their reluctance and the number of changing rooms available to them. This was specially difficult because of the scarcity of studies that dealt with the issue of female athletes in Egypt. However, through extensive search, I was able to find enough information and resources to support and explain the results of the story. Besides extensive search, it helped to find the suitable sources and affected cases that have experiences that match the data. This also gave the story a human voice and amplified the results and helped audiences relate to the story and understand what it meant for women.

What can others learn from this project?

Working on data-driven investigations requires persistence and hard work and needs intelligence, flexibility, and planning. In countries where data on social and economic situations is not readily available, you must find alternative ways to collect data to complete your story, and you must ensure that your methodology will support your hypothesis and prove it.

Additionally, it is important to start with the story and not the data. What is your big question about this phenomenon? And how can you answer this question using data? In the case of the youth centers investigation, there were dozens of tables across 10 years from the official statistics, if I had followed the data before putting my basic questions out, it would have taken me a long time to realize that I needed other data to prove the hypothesis of the investigation. Therefore, writing questions first helps save a lot of time and effort.

It is important to remember that data analysis does not always help and can sometimes mislead you without context. We cannot understand the data and the results of its analysis accurately expressing reality without collecting sufficient information about this reality first. This means reading other stories and talking to colleagues who worked on similar stories and listening to your sources, especially the ones affected by the phenomenon you are investigating. Yes, they may not have the data and information you have, but they live with what this data reflects every day.

For example, while analyzing the data for my story, I found a weak correlation between the numbers of women in youth centers and changing rooms, and without talking to my sources and knowing that they use alternative rooms to get changed, I would have concluded that changing room didn’t affect their turnout for the centers.

Project links: