One win can lead to another
One win can lead to another
The opportunities and challenges posed by mega sporting events to promote gender equity: in light of the upcoming Women's World Cup (WWC) in France, Women Win examine the potential to utilise sports mega events to promote gender equality, drawing on their experiences running programmes in line with mega events.
The profile of women’s football is progressing, not just for the passionate female players and coaches who have always pushed, but for the mainstream. In this edition of the WWC, global growth is evident with new teams such as Jamaica, Chile, Scotland and South Africa making their debut performances.
In the past year, FIFA released their first comprehensive Women’s Football Strategy. Grassroots girls’ programmes are sprouting up all over the world, including in places where there is practically no legacy of girls’ and women’s sport. For example, the Diya Women’s Football Club has been supporting growth of the sport not just in big cities like Karachi, but also in remote areas such as Tharparkar. In the Belameling refugee settlement in rural Uganda, girls and women are learning the game thanks to the vision and commitment of the Community Psychosocial Support Organisation.
The evolution of the women’s game has an ebb and flow characteristic to it, often advancing during high-profile events and situations and rolling back in some manner when the spotlight isn’t on. The top-ranked team in the world (U.S.) is embroiled in a lawsuit against their national governing body for equal pay. The Canadian and Afghanistan national women’s teams have both unveiled massive sexual harassment cases with male coaches and administrative staff.
In fact, if you look at the Olympique Lyonnais team photo, almost all the coaches are men – a far too common scenario reflecting a lack of women in leadership positions across the board. Not to mention, most girls in the world still will never play sport, including football, and experience the documented host of benefits that come from that experience.
Women Win is a nongovernmental organisation with the mission of advancing the playing field that empowers adolescent girls and young women to achieve their rights through sport and play. For more than a decade, we have focused not only on expanding girls’ access to sport, but more importantly, investing in the social benefits that occur through participation at all levels of sport. Our work has impacted the lives of over 3 million girls in more than 100 countries.
We recognise that major sporting events, like the WWC, can be powerful levers to shift gender norms and address most pressing issues of inequality in society, especially when it’s a women’s specific or mixed-gender event. It’s not a coincidence that 73% of the French population believes women's football promotes gender equality in society.
However, mega sporting events are only an opportunity, not a promise, to make positive changes in the lives of girls and women. Actually, the reverse can be true. There is a documented history of men’s mega sporting events jeopardising women’s rights. For example, there have been reported increases in sex trafficking during the (American football) Super Bowl to satiate the appetites of the massive influx of male spectators. According to a report published by the Pathway Project, domestic abuse increases by an average 38% when the England (men’s) football team loses.