By Niovie Constantinou, Contributor
In the era of the female empowerment movement, gender inequality is still an issue in the world of sport, with female athletes experiencing gaps in sponsorships and prize money, gender-based violence and negative stereotypes. Thankfully, this is a time when women’s activism is on the rise, and now is the opportunity to tackle the inequalities present in the sports industry and use sports to empower women. This is exactly the message that FIFA wanted to bring across with the launch of its first-ever global strategy for women’s football in October 2018, making it a top priority; FIFA is working closely with its member associations to enhance the commercial value of women’s football, make football more accessible to girls and encourage female empowerment.
The Women’s Tennis Association has also recently announced that it will not penalize women for wearing leggings or compression shorts instead of a skirt at their tournaments, and that it would change its ranking rule so that a player would not lose their rank in the event of pregnancy, injury or illness. These changes came as a result of tennis players Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka speaking up and starting a conversation about these issues, which in turn caught media attention and prompted the WTA to make the necessary changes. This proves that successful sportswomen can promote female empowerment not only by showing girls that they can thrive on the field, but also by using their voice to lobby against gender inequality.
Indeed, sports federations, sportswomen and sports in general can promote female empowerment, and this in turn positively affects girl athletes. During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, UN Women and the International Olympic Committee launched together the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme, in the hope to create a better life for marginalized young women in the most vulnerable, and often violent, communities. The scheme offers a combination of sport practice as well as life-skills education for girls. Following its completion, 99% of the attendees believed that one day they would get a job, 93% knew where to report violence and 89% believed that they were leaders, as opposed to only 46% prior.
International organization Women Win has reported that female empowerment through sport:
- Teaches girl athletes the values of teamwork, independence and resilience.
- Helps them build confidence and the ability to speak up, empowering them within their communities.
- Fosters opportunities for leadership and achievement.
- Initiates social inclusion, provides them with social connections and, in some instances, a refuge from violence.
In the words of a 17-year-old football player with Associación Bogota Colombia, football has prevented her “from getting into the many problems we have in this country. For example, becoming pregnant at my age or getting into prostitution… It helps me avoid problems.”
The recent win of the U.S. Women Soccer team has inspired many young girl athletes to believe that anything is doable and anything is achievable. The effect of such victorious wins of women in sports can only be positive on young girl athletes as they give the younger generation of girl athletes, role models to look up to while at the same time empowering them to dream big. It is evident that female empowerment in sport gives girl athletes a sense of purpose and belonging. It inspires them to believe in themselves and excel at whatever they undertake; as Serena Williams put it in her 2016 open letter: “we must continue to dream big”.
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