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Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to host first Sports and Human Rights Conference to champion women in sports

08 Mar 2022

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2022, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will host the first Sport and Human Rights Conference of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The Conference, organised by the Northern Ireland Sport and Human Rights Forum and supported by the Ulster University, aims to tackle the barriers to women and girls participating in sport and champion human rights and gender equality in sport.

The event will hear from experts and trailblazers in the field including speakers from the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Disability Sport NI, Women’s Aid, Ulster GAA, footballer Simone Magill, and Kenny Shiels – NI Women’s Football Manager.

Recent research from the Northern Ireland Assembly shows that female participation in sport in Northern Ireland is dropping, and children in NI are reported as having the lowest rates of physical activity in the UK.

The Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Alyson Kilpatrick, said:

Human rights have a vital role to play in sport that is often overlooked. We can champion many human rights issues through sport from the safeguarding of girls and women, to ending all forms of discrimination on and off the field of play, to protecting the rights of women in sport and to increasing their participation in leadership at all levels. This Conference seeks to address some of the many obstacles that prevent women and girls from realising their rights.”

Dr Kyle Ferguson, Ulster University’s Global Engagement Lead from the School of Sport, added:

We’re delighted to support this important initiative and hope that by bringing together key stakeholders to share knowledge we will drive progress and inspire advocates for human rights through sport.

Sport can teach us valuable lessons about non-discrimination and inclusivity while challenging stereotypes. By promoting awareness of how to break down barriers to participation - particularly those with a disability or limited access to opportunities – we will see more women and girls get involved in sport in a safe environment.”

The Conference will take place at the Ulster University and is also available to watch online via the livestream on the Commission's YouTube channel.


Notes to Editor

Interview opportunity with Dr David Russell, CEO of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

For interview requests please call Jason McKeown on 07769 361 156 or Conor Boyle on 07795 640 237.

For other queries contact

Northern Ireland Assembly research into ‘Female participation in sport and physical activity in Northern Ireland’ 2021 : Female participation in sport and physical activity in Northern Ireland (

About the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

About the Norther Ireland Sport and Human Rights Forum

The Northern Ireland Sport & Human Rights Forum was established in May 2019. The Forum has been established as a multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and good practice on sport and human rights issues.

The Chair of the NI Sport and Human Rights forum is Conal Heatley, Business and Operations Manager at Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland.

About the Sports and Human Rights Conference – 8 March

The conference is supported by the Ulster University School of Sport and showcases ongoing research being conducted within the Centre for Sport and Society on human rights and sport. This includes Dr Katie Liston’s UKRI funded ‘Tackling Online Hate in Football’, Dr Paul Kitchin’s work on disability, accessibility and the built environment in support which has been support by UEFA and Dr Paul Darby’s research on children’s rights in sport, much of which has been in partnership with UNICEF UK.


9.00: Welcome & Open NI Sport and Human Rights Forum Chair Conal Heatley and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Michael Boyd

9.15: The Trust Project – Sport & Human Rights Toolkit for teachers and grassroots coaches Dr Catherine Carty and Dr Sarah Carney from Munster Technological University

10.15: Guidance on how to integrate human rights into sport-related education Daniela Heerdt from the Centre for Sport and Human Rights

11.15 Break

11.30: Human Rights and sport research at Ulster University Panel discussion chaired by Dr Kyle Ferguson with staff from UU’s Centre for Sport in Society - Dr Paul Darby, Dr Katie Liston and Dr Paul Kitchin

12.30: Guidance to Plan Events with consideration for Human and Child Rights & Safeguarding Zara Grant from UNICEF UK

13.00 Lunch

14.00: Disability and Sport Elaine Reid, Performance Sports Manager at Disability Sport NI

14.45 - Break

15.00: Panel Discussion – The rise of women & girls in sport in Northern Ireland. Hear from a range of speakers in the world of sport discussing the rise of girls and women in sport here in NI, including:

  • Simone Magill – Everton & NI footballer (video message)
  • Maura McMenamin – Ulster GAA
  • Zoë Tisdale – Sports Journalist
  • Sonya McMullan - Women’s Aid Federation NI
  • Lauren Schwaar – Fathom Performance
  • Karla McDermott – Glentoran Social Partnership
  • Kenny Shiels – NI Women’s Football Manager
  • Sarah Keys – Sport Uniting Communities

16:30: Gender identity & sports Thays Prado, Centre for Sport and Human Rights

17.00: Thanks & Close Dr David Russell, CEO Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

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