Abstract: Gender Inequality in Liberia: Leveling the Playing Field with “Manball”

Hi!  My name is Samantha Mehring, and I am a freshman at the College of William and Mary.  I plan on majoring in international relations and minoring in economics.  This summer, I will travel to Monrovia, Liberia to assess the impact that sports-for-development can have on gender equality and attitudes towards gender.

The Monrovia Football Academy (MFA) uses sport as a tool to foster academic performance and personal growth.  Founded by Will Smith ’14, a William and Mary alumnus, MFA promotes gender equality and aims for equal enrollment numbers between boys and girls.  I will work with a team from William and Mary to analyze how the soccer training and educational curriculum that MFA provides affects attitudes towards gender in girls and boys, and I will compare these results with the attitudes of children not enrolled in MFA.  I will also undertake a qualitative component to better understand why many families are reluctant to have their daughters apply to attend MFA.  Of the 750 students who applied for the 23 open spots at MFA for the 2016-2017 school year, only 27 of the applicants were girls.  This statistic in and of itself is an indication of the vast disparity that exists between the value placed on boys’ and girls’ education in Liberia.  To determine the cultural and social reasons behind the lack of girl applicants to MFA, I plan to interview family members of girls in Monrovia.  This will allow me to better understand parents’ qualms about sending their daughters to academic programs such as MFA.  I will identify the most pervasive beliefs contributing to the lack of support for female education, and upon returning, I will develop strategies to address them.

In addition to collecting qualitative data, I will also measure quantitatively the impact MFA has had on improving equality between boys and girls.  All of the students who applied to or were already attending MFA sat for an entrance exam last summer.  At the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year, the same test will be administered to the students of MFA in an effort to measure the academic impact that the school has had on them.  This test will also be given to approximately 50 students who applied to MFA in June 2016 but just missed the cutoff.  I will compare the test results based on treatment groups and gender in order to see the impact enrollment in MFA has had on its students, especially in closing the gender gap in education.  I will also gather data about the views of students towards girls in school by including questions on the end of the year questionnaire that aim to elicit attitudes about those of the opposite gender.  I hope to identify the strengths and weaknesses of MFA’s current programming as it relates to promoting gender equality.  I will share these insights with MFA as they develop their curriculum to strengthen gender equality. I also plan to summarize the policy implications of my findings for other schools facing similar gender inequalities and best practices for addressing them.