Turning anger into positive energy for gender equality in sport
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Women footballers face discrimination, harassment, and funding challenges every day. But what is more powerful—listing all the problems, or using hope and optimism to outline a potential future?

I am angry.

As a female footballer I have lived more than twenty years of terrible pitches, second-rate referees, outsized hand-me down football kits, harassment, fights over funding and opportunities, minimal column inches and misogyny disguised as banter;. Far worse than my own experiences lie those of Khalida Popal, who faced death threats for setting up the first ever Afghan national womens football and whose own Football Association (FA) President has recently been suspended on horrific rape and abuse allegations. Meanwhile, the Somalia FA stands accused of disappearing FIFAs funds earmarked for developing womens football. In the last few years alone, national team players from Ireland, Denmark, Brazil, Australia, and Norway have gone on strike, tired of being told to be grateful for poor working conditions, the minimum wage and being treated with little respect.

At the same time, we’re on the cusp of something really big in women’s football. The World Cup in the summer will be the best ever in terms of quality and visibility with FIFA aiming for a billion viewers. Norway pays their national men’s and women’s team players the same, and Lewes FC became the first club in the world to do likewise. Last year, France channelled winnings from the men’s world cup into strengthening the women’s leagues. Saudi Arabia has even dropped its ban on girls’ sport in state schools and allowed some women into stadiums to watch games.

Both the positive and negative scenarios are true. But, which leaves you with more optimism for the future?

My work with Equal Playing Field, a global network of women in football who are pushing for change in women’s football has to toe this line every day. Do we point out the problems? Or bring the solutions to the table?

We chose to unite under a slogan highlighting the way forward: “Opportunity, Equality, Respect. Nothing more, nothing less.” We found that this positive, forward-thinking (and yes, somewhat defiant) vision resonated with all women in our network, whether elite pro-players in the US or grassroots players in India. Rather than being a frivolous entry point for fighting for gender equality, sport unlocks all kinds of other rights: education, health, employment. Furthermore, when we deny 50% of the world’s population the right to leisure, we deny them the freedom of being a “whole” person. We also found that it is much harder to argue that women and girls should not have the opportunity to play than it is to excuse or reason away the problems women face.

But therein lies a second question. Who are we talking to? When you consider the intensity of trolling around women’s involvement in sport, it is understandable to want to disprove and argue against the sexist, unfounded or otherwise unhelpful comments. But we have to grit our teeth and not lose sight of our two key audiences; the women and girls who want to play and the people who can make that happen. Unfortunately, communicating to those two audiences needs different approaches.

First, we want to inspire and encourage women and girls to play by showing through our images and videos that they have a right to do so and they will be valued and respected if they do so. We are seeking here to normalise sport and so we share stories of relatable role models and positive can-do stories.


Football (Soccer)

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