Football is playing a pivotal role in empowering girls and women, breaking gender barriers, and improving self-esteem worldwide. In Ethiopia, football clubs and physical activity programs supported by organizations like Children Believe challenge patriarchal society and reshape gender norms. Initiatives like #TeamLaLeague raise funds and awareness for girls’ rights in developing countries, using football to combat inequality. The UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Wolfsburg and FC Barcelona highlights the influence of high-profile female sports on breaking gender barriers. Participating in sports not only empowers girls and women but also has a lasting impact on their health and well-being.
Transforming gender norms and boosting self-esteem
In Ethiopia, where gender norms often disadvantage women and girls, football is emerging as a catalyst for change. Organizations like Children Believe support programs that challenge traditional norms and open up new possibilities for girls. Participation in sports has been found to improve girls’ self-esteem, self-image, social networking, integration, and community impact. In developing countries like Brazil and Nicaragua, #TeamLaLeague fights against inequality and discrimination, with one in five girls married as minors and 16 million girls becoming pregnant annually. Football projects help boost girls’ self-esteem, strength, and confidence, creating a more level playing field.
High-profile women’s football competitions inspire change
The UEFA Women’s Champions League is a prime example of how high-profile female football competitions inspire girls and break gender barriers. The final match between VfL Wolfsburg Frauen and Barcelona Femeni showcased the dedication and talent of the players. Barcelona reached their third consecutive final, winning in 2021 but losing in 2022, while Wolfsburg made it to their sixth final in 11 years, with victories in 2013 and 2014. The sold-out PSV Stadium in Eindhoven, with 34,100 tickets sold, set a new Netherlands’ record for a women’s football match. The increasing visibility and support for women’s football promotes gender equality and inspires girls worldwide.
Role models in the spotlight
Seeing the positive impact of high profile female sports the High Tech Campus Eindhoven became the main sponsor of PSV Women from the 2022 season, with a two-season commitment. Hilde de Vocht, Director of Marketing and Communication at High Tech Campus Eindhoven, stated, “We want to put female role models in the spotlight more”. The sponsorship aims to promote diversity in the tech world and inspire young and old through the “Fe+male Tech Heroes” initiative, founded by Ingelou Stol and De Vocht. The football world remains male-dominated, and PSV women serve as role models and inspiration for girls and women to follow their dreams.
International initiatives empowering girls through football
International Day for Sport for Peace and Development (IDSDP) celebrates sport as a tool for social change, community development, peace, and understanding. Programs like Grassroot Soccer use sport-based metaphors and activities to teach adolescent girls and young women about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Access to sport facilitates community resources, medical services, and safe spaces, as well as improves physical health. Grassroot Soccer community soccer tournaments make SRHR services accessible and stigma-free, leading to a threefold increase in HIV testing. Transforming gender norms through sports participation results in healthier communities and the adoption of healthy behaviours and routines in various aspects of life.
UEFA’s commitment to women’s football
UEFA’s head of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, emphasised the importance of women’s football as a tool for gender equality, empowerment, anti-discrimination, and challenging stereotypes at a European Parliament conference in Brussels. UEFA’s Women’s Football Development Programme, along with campaigns like Together #WePlayStrong, aims to increase girls’ participation and change perceptions of women’s football. UEFA is committed to providing opportunities for girls, building structures for role models and leaders, and using competitions to educate and spread messages. Kessler stated on the UEFA website, “There are 443 million women in Europe, and we need women’s football to be available and accessible to all those women and girls who want to be part of our sport”.