Persistence, resilience and opportunity: Perspectives on women’s football
On 6 June, the FARE Network hosted and live streamed its International Panel Discussion on Women’s Football.
The panel included experts from multiple countries and backgrounds including professional athletes, sport for development activists and policy makers. Talks centred on gender in football, with topics ranging from diversity in professional sport associations and representation of women players in the media to the role of grassroots programmes and sustaining cultural shifts.
Panellists discussed ensuring an increase in gender diversity within sport organisations at all levels. This means not only an increase of media coverage and support of professional female leagues, but also women in leadership positions on and off the field. Along with more diversity, there is a need to represent the multiple experiences of female athletes. Caitlin Fisher, a former professional football player, pointed out the importance of avoiding essentialism when describing female athletes’ experiences. Women from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds will undoubtedly have different experiences with sport in their contexts. Embracing this reality is the first step in attaining real diversity.
Breaking a vicious cycle
A lack of visibility at the elite level can have real consequences for young players, as they cannot become what they do not see. Fisher addressed this “vicious cycle” problem, stressing a need for organisations, governing bodies and individuals to invest in women’s football with a vision for the long term.
Football player, coach and sports activist, Shireen Ahmed expanded on the problem of visibility. A shared experience of girls worldwide is the sense that the football field is not their space: “Boys are brought into the sports community with an inherent sense that they belong here, but that’s not the case for girls.”
When girls are already discouraged at a young age and there is a lack of representation at the elite level, it further discourages them from feeling that they belong. This echoes the vicious cycle, and reinforces a need for a psychological shift regarding women’s football.
Drawing from her personal experience, Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire described the difficulties she faced in pursuing football as a young athlete. Despite a lack of support from her family and community, she continued to follow her passion for the sport, leading to a professional career. She encourages the development of grassroots programmes to create more opportunities for girls and women to become involved, build confidence and gain support of the community.
Panellists agreed on the importance of encouraging grassroots programmes globally and including them in policy making, as well as the need for more female representation at all levels. They also discussed a shift in thinking regarding equality. As Friederike Faust of Discover Football pointed out, rather than aiming to give women a “seat at the table” it is first necessary to consider what that means: “When we try to get a piece of the cake or a seat at the table, we are so busy doing that that we stop questioning the table.” She argued for a future that supersedes “equality” as conforming to the current standard, and creates a new place for women’s football, on its own terms.
- Article taken from sportandev.org