Women in Football
The 2023 Women’s World Cup: Towards a broad Human Rights perspective for the women’s game
Author: Dr Jorge Knijnik
After some heated national debates, in July 1980 Australia signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Adopted by the UN Assembly in December, 1979, this document was a culmination of more than three decades of work by UN commissioners, who tirelessly investigated the global status of (in)equality of women in several areas of human endeavour, such as work, political participation, marriage, professional training and others. Hence, the states that signed and ratified the Convention ‘have the obligation to ensure the equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights’.
Among its seven parts and 30 articles, the CEDAW reserved an entire article for the topic of ‘Education’. Amid its eight items, article 10 unequivocally confirms that states will take all appropriate measures to ensure women equal rights of men in the field of education, and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women that boys and girls should have ‘the same opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education’ (CEDAW, article 10, item (g)).
Since then, gender equity narratives have been more and more present in many sports organisations; these narratives have gained momentum within mega sports events planners and bidders. Indeed, gender equity narratives were central to the bidding process for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (Desjardins, 2021), which mobilised nations from South America, Asia and Oceania. All bidding nations regarded the event as a turning point for the achievement of the gender equality topics stated in the CEDAW and emphasised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In relation to the forthcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand), there are great hopes that it will leave further legacies in the field of gender equity for the country (see the Legacy’23 paper in https://www.footballaustralia.com.au/legacy23-overview). The expectations are even greater among the grassroots football community, where recent research data has shown that nearly 90% of all women who participate in any form of amateur football in Australia has already suffered gender discrimination.
Considering this background, Western Sydney University recently conducted a pilot study in New South Wales where we tried to investigate the potential human rights legacy of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup to the state’s football grassroots arena. We were particularly interested in looking at how policies guiding women’s football articulated the rhetoric of gender equity goals in the period leading up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. We also wanted to listen to people involved at the game’s administration to learn what they think about the gender equity status quo of the game in the grassroots level.
A few of our findings show that, in spite of a few progresses, girls and women are yet to have a fair and equal field when entering the actual football fields. Whilst the existence of clear bullying policies is prevalent in the grassroots, the language used in the policy documents is quite neutral, and do not have a particular emphasis on harassment towards girls and women due to gender issues, thereby displaying a lack of awareness of the specific issues and experiences of women and girls related to bullying and harassment.
Another relevant finding of this pilot study was the absence of the voices of women and girls in the policy documents. Usually, the documents provide generic statements promoting an inclusive and safe culture for everyone, without suggesting or providing practical mechanisms for clubs and associations on how and when to manage real-world challenges to such a culture when they arose.
An interesting point that we found in this study was a ‘naïve’ perception that grassroots football administrators (many of them women) have about the presence of women in leadership roles: most of them firmly believe that the mere existence of women leaders is the best way to create a culture that is safeguarding women and girls from bullying and harassment at grassroots level. Without speaking of the quality of these leadership positions, there is a belief that women by themselves would stop harassment, without any further need of systemic changes.
The full report, which also put forward a few recommendations to level the gender field within grassroots football, can be found here. Despite the need of further and larger studies in this area, this pilot investigation, which was supported by Women in Football, reveals that there is much room for improvement till Australian football reaches the country’s commitments to gender equality in the sports field, ratified in the CEDAW.
As the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup fast approaches our shores, Women in Football is keen to join other football and human rights associations to support new studies that can monitor the state-of-the-art of girls and women’s human rights within football.
Dr. Jorge Knijnik is a board member of Women in Football and the author of ‘The World Cup Chronicles: 31 days that rocked Brazil’ (Fair Play Publishing). Twitter @JorgeKni
Photo by: Tiffany Williams via FA