To help those most vulnerable rebuild their lives and reclaim their bodies, Fondation de France has launched a call for projects: “Women and Sports – For a Fresh Start!” A look at some outstanding initiatives where physical activity is the key to women’s resilience.
This is the idea behind Fondation de France’s call for projects: Women and Sports – For a Fresh Start! Launched in 2019, its goal is to offer to women whose lives have been upended by illness, violence, or other difficulties to retake control of their lives through practicing adapted sports and receiving a more holistic style of support.
Group movement to fight cancer
To help women living with cancer feel less isolated and regain their self-confidence, the non-profit La Holi, located in the Landes region in the town of Hagetmau, offers health-oriented fitness classes in small groups. Since 2017, La Holi has been offering yoga workshops, gentle gym, Pilates and dance classes several times a week, led by specially trained coaches. Developed in the heart of a rural area and started by home health nurse Laure Dandieu, this program fills a real need. “Women patients often feel very isolated and discouraged, whether they are in remission or in treatment. Taking up a physical activity is above all a way of reengaging in social interaction, but also a way of combating the side effects of their treatments, such as chronic fatigue, weak muscles and sleep problems,” explains Laure Dandieu. In addition to these sports meetups, there is psychological support with the association’s psychologist, as well as nutritional consultations. Thanks to this initiative, 34 women living with cancer have been able to significantly improve the quality of their lives. “The feedback has been very positive. Small gestures, like lifting an arm, has become possible again, but above all the women are happy to be with each other. Obviously, Covid has shaken things up, and we had to offer our classes through videoconference, which didn’t have the same impact,” says La Holi’s director, who was eagerly awaiting the warm weather so they can have outdoor sessions.
Exercise your body to get your life back
Far from the landscape of the Landes region, sports are also bringing women together to rebuild their lives in Paris. Already very much committed to social inclusion through sports, the non-profit Up Sport! has set up a program specifically for women who are victims of domestic violence, which is now in its second year. Called FORCES, which stands for Les Femmes Œuvrent pour la Réappropriation de leur Corps et leur Émancipation via le Sport (Women Working to Take Back Their Bodies and their Liberty through Sports), the project is a partnership with the Paris Information Center on the Rights of Women and Families (Centre d'information sur les droits des femmes et des familles de Paris). A ten-month program, its activities are centered around three complementary approaches: sports, psychological assistance and help reintegrating the job market. Karine Roussier, who is in charge of the sports component, explains. “The goal is to give women the resources they need to liberate themselves by changing the way they see themselves. Through sports, they reappropriate their bodies, they succeed in overcoming their fears, like getting back on a bicycle or finishing a race. Together, they motivate each other, give each other objectives, and end up stronger. The fact that our activities take place outside, in parks, is also very important. It’s a way for them to reconquer the public space and get out of the domestic sphere.” Thanks to the collective effort of the various teams who coordinate the activities, the benefits of physical activity reinforce the women’s progress, both on the psychological and professional level. In 2020, this program gave 15 women between 19 to 55 years old new impetus in their quest to develop their professional, familial, or personal situation (job training, help with paperwork, psychological support). At the end of the program, one in four continue to regularly practice a physical activity with Up Sport!
Dance to forget the prison bars
Freedom of movement for wellbeing is an approach that has also been developed for women inmates in the Marseilles prison. The Santé-Baumettes project, implemented by the prison’s health team, uses dance as means of physical and mental health education for women. Inmates struggle with self-esteem issues, depression, as well as psychosomatic illnesses brought on by their incarceration. “Helping women rebuild their lives and take care of themselves through dance seemed like a very promising approach,” explains Dr. Valerie Ghaleb, hospital practitioner with the prison. “An introduction to modern dance allows the women to freely express their emotions through their bodies, and to recreate that link with a bit of fun. In fact, many say that when dancing, they no longer have the impression they are in prison,” she adds. Taught by a teacher from the outside, classes last four months, followed by group and individual discussion sessions.
Movement for empowerment
In a similar approach, the non-profit Les Orchidées Rouges (The Red Orchids), based in Bordeaux, has found that dance and movement are valuable tools to supplement their holistic program for women who have been subjected to excision. This extreme assault on their physical integrity has caused these women and adolescents profound trauma, which has been imprinted on their flesh and their sense of self. Since 2020, dance therapy workshops were added to the program to help address this trauma. “The idea of the dance workshops, which concern some 75 women, is to give them an opportunity to reappropriate their body, which is often shut down after having experienced such violence. Many women are withdrawn and have lost their self-esteem,” explains Marie-Claire Moraldo, managing director of Les Orchidées Rouges. The dance therapist, who has been trained in an emotional approach to movement, works with the women either individually or in small groups. Gently, they help the women reclaim their physical selves by working on posture, breathing and how to occupy space and move through it. Simple gestures, but often bound up with deep psychological barriers.
Sports: a key activity for many donor-advised funds
Donor-advised funds have developed other projects that aim to liberate women through sports:
- Fondation Robert Abdesselam supports the non-profit Les Maillons de l’Espoir, which works with young women who are survivors of war-related violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Maison Dorcas project has developed an educational, psycho-social and sports (soccer) program to help them find their place again in their community;
- Since 2010, Fondation Lacoste has been by the side of the non-profit Sport dans la Ville (Sports in the City) by supporting the “L dans la Ville” program, that allows young women from disadvantaged neighborhoods to play tennis;
- Fondation BNP Paribas is mobilizing for the education and social integration of young women from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Toulouse by supporting the Essai au Féminin program of the non-profit Rebonds! The program’s activities focus on participation in a rugby club.
Three questions for… Philippe Nicolino, president of the Women and Sports Committee
What is the goal of the “Women and Sports – for a Fresh Start!” Program?
The aim of this program is to find solutions for women who are in vulnerable situations by giving them back their ability to take action, through physical and sports-oriented activities. By “vulnerable” we mean that they are no longer able to defend themselves or their own interests. We know how much the Covid-19 crisis has worsened the daily lives of many women, who now find themselves even more vulnerable, for reasons having to do with economics, health, violence, or isolation. This program is thus particularly well-adapted to the current situation.
Why are sports such a precious tool when dealing with physical and psychological reconstruction?
Sports are beneficial for several reasons. First of all, they allow one to reappropriate one’s body, to let it move, feel pleasure, feel healthy, and increase one’s self-esteem. They are also a good way to reestablish social connection, whether it’s a club or an association, because even if a sport is practiced individually, it needs to be done in a collective framework. Finally, sports are valuable because they are associated with the idea of challenge, goals, objectives, and all of those are powerful ways of mobilizing a desire to rebuild one’s life.
How does the physical approach lead to more effective overall care?
Working with the body is essential because it is part of our identity, both personal and social. And physical activity puts the person’s body back in the center of things, so that it is no longer just a body-object that has been subject to illness, mistreatment, or rejection, but a body-subject that can be put into action. In this way, physical activity allows people to reconnect and realign with themselves so they can move forward.
FIND OUT MORE