09/24/2013 11:22 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

One Win Leads to Another

On September 23rd, a confident young netball coach and youth leader from the Naz Foundation in India will step onto the main stage of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York City. The youngest woman to stand in this spotlight, she will be understandably nervous as she delivers Women Win's 'Pitch for Partnerships'. She will not be wearing high heels, a black power suit or a white necktie. She will, however, share the stage with the likes of President Barack Obama, Melinda Gates and Bono.

Her name is Pallavi Gaikwad and in her 'pitch' she will highlight the value of sport as a tool for positive social change in the lives of adolescent girls and their communities. She will ask the powerful audience at CGI to explore ways and commit resources to mainstream sports programs for girls. She will ask that this be prioritized among existing global development efforts. Gaikwad will make her case for investing in adolescent girls as leaders and agents of change through sport. More than any words that she might say, her presence alone will make an irrefutable case for the role that sport can play in improving a girl's confidence, communication, strength and power. Girls are natural leaders and sport offers them the opportunity to practice that leadership, fail successfully and embrace adversity as a teacher. These are priceless and critical lessons in overcoming the many obstacles they face.

Globally, more than 600 million adolescent girls struggle with widespread poverty, limited access to education and health services, and persistent discrimination and violence. Even though girls and women represent more than 50 percent of the world's population, they have second-class status in many societies. Gender inequality and discrimination is deeply entrenched and widely tolerated throughout the world. It is pervasive, and it begins at an early age, often before girls are born. Gender inequity remains one of the most entrenched problems in the world. It directly and indirectly prevents our societies from developing and thriving.

Unlike the typical media portrayal of young Indian girls, Gaikwad is not exploited, oppressed or anemic. In fact, she is a strong, proud, passionate leader and a powerful force for change. And, she will be physically making this case, speaking for herself and for her peers, telling her own story in her own words, on a world stage. What the audience will see is that through sport Gaikwad is not a victim of fate but an architect of her own destiny. Her main stage presence at CGI is a positive and shining example to adolescent girls around the world of what is possible.

For girls in many settings, sport is a dramatic and historical departure from the traditional scripts bestowed upon them. Sport affords girls and young women entry into the physical and action-oriented world that boys and men have long enjoyed. It penetrates the male psyche and challenges them to question cultural preconceptions about what is acceptable behavior for girls and women.

Culturally appropriate sport programs relevant to age and context can meet the simultaneous needs of offering girls safe spaces in which to learn new skills, practice leadership and break down restrictive gender norms. By seeing girls in unfamiliar roles (e.g. athlete, coach, captain, referee), boys, families and communities can learn to appreciate their strengths, capabilities and talents. In turn, girls and women are increasingly valued in society and the reconfiguration of gender traditions is encouraged. This is a win for all.

The leadership of girls and young women is absolutely vital for a just and prosperous world. Well-designed sport based employability and life skills programs are a powerful strategy to address gender inequity everywhere. This is particularly true in the challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood. Adolescent girls and young women have the right to access sport as a mechanism for their own empowerment and leadership development. Let's give them that sporting chance -- just like Gaikwad -- and watch the next generation of young leaders emerge.

Click here to learn more about Gaikwad's story and see her pitch at CGI.