Why not the boys too?

ImageHello from Petrozavodsk!

My train to Petrozavodsk was an interesting experience but I eventually arrived at my host family’s apartment.  Liudmila has put me in good hands with her co-worker, Lena, and her seven year old son. They didn’t think I would like being there with the cat, so he is staying somewhere else.

I have had some very interesting interviews with school principals, parents, girls, college students, and employees in sports related industries. As I have shared information about Girls in the Game, the most common response has been, “Why only the girls? Why not the boys too?”

So I have changed the way I start to talk about Girls in the Game. I begin with the history of sports in America and Title IX. I then talk about the issues girls and children in America face today with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, lack of health education and lack of physical activity opportunities. Many of this surprises people here in Russia, as they do not face these issues to the same degree as Americans.  At least that is their perception.  The research I have been doing, as you saw in my last post, proves otherwise.

Yesterday I talked to a group of parents with children of all ages about what types of sports girls and boys are involved in, the messages about health that parents send to kids, where health education should be learned, and who is responsible for providing physical activity.  I learned that their girls do face many of the same challenges as our girls. They have issues with body image and talking negatively about themselves, they are less active because of video games, cell phones and Facebook, and they are less likely to participate in team sports and “prefer” to play individual sports.

Later, I was able to attend a Tae Kwando class.  This class was ages 8-11 and about 80% of the participants were boys and 20% girls. In fact, there were four girls in the class. However, the coach told me that usually his classes have more girls than boys especially in the older classes.  I interviewed two of the girls in the program and when I asked them what they like about being in the class, one girl said, “In school the boys bully us and so here we learn how to stick up for ourselves. When they find out we are in this class they look at us differently.”  The girl next to her nodded in agreement. Next, I told them about Girls in the Game and that we learn team sports with girls only. They too, asked, “Why only the girls?” I told them that sometimes it is more fun for us girls to learn how to play sports together without boys around. They smiled and agreed with my response. I told them about the leadership topics and health topics as well. One little girl said, “That sounds great!” I asked if they would sign up if we had Girls in the Game in Petrozavodsk and both nodded excitedly.

Many of the adults that I have spoken with seem to think there is not such a need for this program.  However, when I talk to girls and young people (ages 16-30 by Russian definition) they all say they would love to join this program and would have loved it as a child.

Mila says zdrah-stvooy (hello) to every one back at Girls in the Game.

Sending warm wishes across the Atlantic,



Saltshakers from Home


I have been in Russia now for 3 days and so far one of the coolest events has been the Youth Event: Young People’s Access to Rights. By “youth”, they mean 18-35 years of age. The people at this event were concerned about youth’s access to and ability to exercise all types of rights including education, work, and housing. Youth are disproportionately unemployed and growth wages for them are virtually nonexistent. At the same time, there is a rising cost on food, commodities, and energy.  People attended from all countries in Europe to talk about and come up with solutions. This is not something that we seem to have conversations about in the US particularly for this age group but as they talked about it, I wondered how it would relate to our own issues in the US, especially in regards to youth healthcare access.

 Another interesting note, there was no discussion of gender inequity, or inequity at all, and there was only one female presenter at the event.  When I ask locals here about equity among jobs and wages for men and women, the response has been, “Oh that is not an issue here. Women make the same as a man in jobs and you don’t see many women in the higher up jobs because more Russians want to start a family and be home with their families.” However, when I did my research the facts told a different story….

  • In the 1980’s women’s wages averaged 70% of men’s wages, but in 2000 they averaged only 50%.
  • As wages have risen in traditionally female dominated work sectors, men have entered these sectors and women have left. 
  • The majority of women work in the public sector in jobs such as social services where the wages are less than 60% of the minimum subsistence level.  Although they are working, they are not receiving substantial wages to support themselves and make up a new working category – the “working poor”.

Today we will go into three high schools and talk to principals and teachers. To prepare, I have been doing some research on obesity rates here in Russia. Obesity is a big problem among adults in Russia with 38% of adults overweight or obese. In part because of the recent end of the Soviet Union, Russia has placed emphasis on things such as having enough food, money, and jobs rather than on living a healthy lifestyle. From what I understand there is currently no health education in schools and curriculum is chosen for students all the way through college.

I read an interesting research paper on attempts to lower salt intake because studies have shown that this can lower the risk of developing high blood pressure. City authorities ordered a 50% decrease in the salt in school cafeteria food.  However, children stopped eating at school and then went so far as to bring their own saltshakers from home. Obviously, they need some time to adjust to new and healthier eating habits that are very much outside of social norms in Russia.  Parents worry that their children have food to eat, but they are not as concerned about the quality of that food.  Social prestige comes from money, cars, and expensive homes, not from a healthy lifestyle. While only 10% of Russian children are currently overweight or obese, this number could rapidly increase due to the aforementioned social factors. As we see trends in other countries emphasizing the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, I wonder how long it will be before Russia starts to put more efforts on health education?

Tonight I must say farewell to St. Petersburg and my new friends here as I board an eight hour train to meet Liudmila in her home town of Petrozavodsk where I will spend the majority of my trip.

Sending high fives across the Atlantic,


Two Weeks in Russia

 Girls in the Game’s very own Training and Evaluation Manager, Kristi Skala, is spending two weeks in Russia! In the spring of 2012, Girls in the Game had the honor of working with Liudmila Isaeva from Russia through an exchange program facilitated by the US State Department Sports Mentoring Program, American Councils for International Education, and World Chicago.  Now as a completion of the exchange program, Kristi is learning about and promoting girls’ health and wellness in Russia.  Share in some of her experiences as she writes about her adventures and discoveries in Russia.

The first day in St. Petersburg is ending. Even though I started my trip well over 24 hours ago, with the time difference, I have only had a half a day here in Russia.  I have been traveling with Americans Jon Schmidt from Chicago Public Schools and Kate Tsubata who works in HIV and AIDS education in Washington D.C.  We spent a lot of time getting settled, exchanging money, and learning how to navigate to and enter our apartment. We then had a welcome dinner with Vera Ageeva and Paulina Klishova, two of our Host Fellows who have been setting up our schedule here in St. Petersburg.

Tomorrow we will attend the Youth Event, “Young People’s Access to Rights: Development of Innovative Youth Policies.”  The Council of Europe, Advisory Council on Youth, European Youth Forum, and the National Youth Council of Russia organized this event.

St. Petersburg is a large city and used to be the capitol of Russia. Over the years, Moscow and St. Petersburg have taken turns being the capitol. As you can imagine there are a lot of American franchises here including McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King…Luckily, all of the places we have eaten have had very healthy choices. I have tried beet and cabbage salad, baked eggplant with tomatoes and garlic, and compote (Kompot), a mealtime custom made by dropping fruit in boiled water for a short amount of time.  In our apartment the shower and the bathroom are both in a closet. Everything is small: the sinks, stove, refrigerator etc. It is very cute and charming.

Left: Check out all the healthy Russian food!  Even in another country, my Girls in the Game waterbottle is the perfect sidekick through all my meetings and traveling.

Center: Kristi, John Scmidt (CPS), Pauline Klishova and Vera Ageeva (Host Fellows) 

 Sending well wishes across the Atlantic,