Kolkata : While watching India-New Zealand semi-final match at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, you must have noticed English football star David Beckham applauding the cricketers on the field.
Before coming to the stadium, he met children and adolescent boys and girls in Gujarat who are bringing about change and innovation in their communities and young women like Rinku Pravibhai who overcame barriers to pursue their dreams.
“As father of a young daughter, I was deeply moved to meet Rinku and other young girls who are fighting for change and having a say in their futures,” Beckham, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who is here to celebrate UNICEF’s partnership with International Cricket Council (ICC), said today.
Rinku Pravibhai, aged 21, called off her marriage six years ago. She was pressured to drop out of school and get married by her family. After learning about the harmful consequences of child marriage at a UNICEF-supported ‘young girls’ group, she confided her plight to a social worker and stopped her marriage. Today, Rinku is training as a nurse at Banaskantha district in Gujarat.
“Rinku is a role model for other girls who want to complete their education and fulfill their potential,” the ace footballer said.
At the stadium, Beckham joined legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, UNICEF Regional Ambassador for South Asia, and children to urge the spectators to #BeAChampion for girls and boys to help them equally participate in sport and life’s opportunities.
Adding that sports promotes participation, breaks down gender stereotypes, the great footballer said, “It is a powerful way to help girls realise their dreams. I have always been a strong believer in the power of sport in levelling the playing field for children.’’
During his four-day visit to India, Beckham saw how UNICEF-supported programmes done in partnership with Government of India are making a difference for girls and women. He also joined community workers, government officials and activists who help children continue their schooling, saying no to child marriage and child labour.
“Beckham’s visit to India spotlights the message on the importance of equal opportunities and rights for every child. His visit reinforces UNICEF’s mission to support equal opportunities to empower all, especially girls,” said UNICEF India Representative Cynthia McCaffrey.
“UNICEF is deeply committed to supporting Government of India so every child can survive, thrive and pursue their dreams. The quest for gender equality runs at the core of all of UNICEF’s work in India,” she said.
Beckham met young innovators and entrepreneurs at the Vikram Sarabhai Children Innovation Centre in Gujarat University. A first of its kind for children in India, the Centre was set up to promote innovations by children and young people, especially girls, including 27-year-old Shikha Shah who set up AltMat, a material science company upcycling agricultural residue to create environment friendly natural fibers for textile and fashion. The company has scaled up its patented technology to one of the highest production capacities solving the dual problem of agri-waste and fashion pollution.
UNICEF works with the Government of India to invest in girls’ education and opportunities that boost their confidence and skills and help them become the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders.
In Ahmedabad, Beckham met with children from the Gujarat Youth Forum – established two years ago by a local partner, Elixir and UNICEF, to inspire young people to become change-makers. He spoke to 12-year-old Pratha Vanar, a young cricketer, who started playing cricket when she was six and is now the sole girl among boys in the team. He also met 14-year-old author Aarya Chavda who donates her book and art proceeds to underprivileged cancer patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated gender inequalities in South Asia. An increase in domestic violence, child marriage and loss of paid work and employment impacted girls and women who continue to bear the brunt of longer-term socio-economic shocks experienced in the region.