Move by Move, Achieving Female Empowerment through Chess

The world of chess has long been male-dominated. This poor representation has turned into a source of motivation and inspiration for Zhao Jiayi (15A15), who wanted females to have their own space on the board too.

Jiayi’s firsthand experience of this problem drove her to establish Girls in Chess, a group which organised Singapore Youth Girls’ Chess Championship 2017 for budding female chess masters. The participants were primary school students – a deliberate move by Jiayi to “target the youngest players, and hopefully encourage them to continue on this journey.”

 Jiayi standing proudly with the banner marking the product of her hard work — Singapore Youth Girls’ Chess Championship 2017. Photo Credit: Zhao Jiayi (15A15)

Jiayi herself started at the tender age of ten. Confessing that she was once “an awful player,” she feels her her time in Nanyang Primary School, which has a strong chess culture, and the effort devoted to brushing up her chess skills in secondary school fuelled her passion. At Hwa Chong, Jiayi was part of the soccer team, and she constantly drew inspiration from football and applied it to chess. Jiayi reflected, “In many ways, football is like chess, most notably how people think football is a sport meant only for guys.”

 Jiayi with her fellow football warriors. Photo Credit: Zhao Jiayi (15A15)

The lack of female chess players, Jiayi explained, is due to a combination of factors. For one, chess is “not seen as the most glamourous CCA for a girl”; and consistent male success might be demoralising. Most importantly, at competitions and CCA training sessions, girls make up the minority. “They end up feeling quite lonely,” Jiayi noted, further explaining how the competition hoped to expose them to other like-minded girls to build a sense of community.

Furthermore, Jiayi had the lofty aim of organising everything on a 0-dollar budget. She had to obtain sponsorship to cover costs for the venue, equipment, and refreshments. Her team faced difficulties in gaining sponsors’ trust as they lacked support from any organisation and hence credibility.

Jiayi also had to ensure participation, since few wanted to participate in the inaugural competition. Many even tried to convince her to add a boys’ category to boost participation numbers. “That would just go against the whole purpose of the competition, so I’m glad I stuck to my convictions in the end,” Jiayi reflected. With the endorsement of the Singapore Chess Federation and IN, her team eventually managed to secure a good turnout. The proceeds were also donated to the Singapore Committee for the UN Women.

She credited her success to the unwavering support of her Humanities Programme tutors, who helped her along every step of the way. And to juniors aspiring to spearhead similar activities, she urged, “Always dare to try.” Despite the craziness of it all and the challenges you face, she believes that it tends to work out well in the end.

Jiayi with her “very encouraging and supportive” classmates and tutors in the Humanities Programme. Photo Credit: Zhao Jiayi (15A15)

 Written by Jazlin Tan Kaiqian (17A12) and Ng Zi Ling (17A14)

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