Women in the world and the Women’s World Cup: extra time to reflect on the broader injustices women and girls face

May 31, 2019
Women in the world and the Women’s World Cup: extra time to reflect on the broader injustices women and girls face

USA vs Spain in a 2019 friendly. EPA/MANUEL LORENZO

I'm preparing to take PALS and Romeo and Juliet to the Edinburgh Festival fringe this August.  I want to try and redress the traditional male and female role balance a bit, particularly with Romeo and Juliet, so this article in The Conversation caught my eye...

Few events in women’s sport generate more attention than the football World Cup. Around 750m people watched the last tournament and, in June, France will host the 2019 competition, featuring the defending champions from the US. 

But the American team’s battle off the pitch may reveal more about the state of women’s football than match day performances. In March, the squad filed a lawsuit against USA Soccer, the governing body of the sport in the country, alleging gender discrimination. The vast pay gap between the men’s and women’s teams – despite the women consistently outperforming the men and generating more revenue – is just one aspect of the legal undertaking. 

The squad is arguing for more than a pay raise. Its members want increased support for developing youth football, promoting the game and better pathways for women in international leadership roles. These factors are critical to the future success of the sport and improving opportunities for girls and women to benefit from participation. 

This struggle extends far beyond one team, one sport or one country. It forms part of a much wider movement for equal rights across all levels of sport, human rights and politics. 

In February 2019, an important step was taken when the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Swiss government agreed to carry out a feasibility study into the creation of a new “global observatory” for women and sport. 

A global observatory (a source of information, analysis and activism) would help align several parallel movements: the UN’s overall efforts to promote gender equality, its sustainable development goals in low and middle income countries, and the ongoing struggle for girls and women in sport. 

For decades, these complementary movements have helped advance social change around the globe, working to make the world into a more inclusive space. Yet at the pinnacle of women’s sport, the best athletes are undeniably treated as lesser beings. 

Yes, there are differences in popularity and revenue in elite sport, but how sports make profit is complex and gendered. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue against improving opportunities for girls and women to simply play sport for health, social inclusion and recreation. 

The global observatory would aspire to identify these inequalities, analyse them, and advocate for change. Yet gender equality initiatives often languish in review, debate and endless contemplation. 

In the 1970s, the Olympic system was slowly (and controversially) expanding opportunities for women. The UN also began considering gender equality, and in 1979 adopted an international treaty, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Essentially a bill of rights for women that prohibits discrimination by sex, it has been ratified by 189 countries. (The US is one of seven countries which have not ratified CEDAW – alongside Iran, Somalia and South Sudan.)

Various groups pressed on for greater social change, but it wasn’t until the 1994 international conference on women and sport that the Brighton Declaration was drafted, which has served as a road map for gender equality in sport. At Brighton in England, the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) was born, becoming a leading voice for gender equality in sport and a UNESCO partner. 

Another push came after the 2004 Olympics, when a UNESCO group of ministers for sport first proposed the global observatory. But the call stalled for years until it was revived in 2017. Then, in April 2019, the Swiss government agreed to conduct the feasibility study.

The marathon of gender equality

Progress has been slow, and it will be one of the tasks of the observatory, when it is finally formed, to understand why. 

Justice delayed is justice denied – especially in sport, when a month’s hiatus can destroy a life long dream such as competing at the Olympics. Olympic champion Caster Semenya is currently prevented from competing by a ruling which would force her to take hormone suppressing drugs. Her battle is far from over. More broadly, each delay represents opportunities lost for girls and women the world over. 

Swiss support in moving the gender and sport agenda further is a valuable step forward. Switzerland is also the place where the UN (in Geneva) and the international world of sport meet (Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Committee and many international sport federations). An observatory for women and sport in Switzerland could become a nexus for sport, gender equality and human rights.

All of this matters beyond sport. Systematic inequalities in sport have a major impact on people’s lives and reflect diverse social, economic and political inequalities. 

The observatory should be the platform that monitors, advocates and ensures equality in sport – and beyond. If it does that, everyone will benefit. As Benjamin Franklin once said: 

"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."


Sarah Zipp
Lecturer, Faculty of Health Science and Sport, University of Stirling

Lilamani de Soysa
Researcher in Sports Studies, University of Tsukuba

Disclosure statement -
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Stirling

University of Stirling provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

Brexit? What's that? No problem...!

April 8, 2019
It looks like the UK might be exiting the European Union - So a British Exit - Brexit! I love the wordplay, if not the concept.  I won't get into the politics here (nah, I don't think it's a great idea to leave, and I do remember when I was a kid we were known as the 'poor man of Europe' hence us joining the EEC, but...!) however, we have people from around the world come on our literary pub celebration, and one or two people have mentioned they'd heard stories of rationing and hoarding and w...
Continue reading...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 29, 2018
We hope we'll see you in 2019.  The highlights of 2018?  Without doubt, presenting three classic plays at the Edinbugh Festival.  Nick Hennegan's version of A Christmas Carol with Guy Masterson wowing the UK on tour.  And this review from the Sunday Telegraph... 


Continue reading...

The End of Edinburgh...

November 27, 2018

For a writer, I've not been writing on here very much!  Mainly due to the creative madness that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  I actually had THREE productions I’d written and directed at the festival this year - A Christmas Carol, Henry V - Lion of England and Hamlet - Horatio’s Tale.  Yes, it was a hectic, but a glorious and intense experience.  Adapting Shakespeare’s Hamlet almost sent me as mad as the gloomy Dane himself. (Or was he mad? Or gloomy?  Or just pretending.  How mad ...

Continue reading...

Kizzy is King of Edinburgh. And Queen. And Prince...

July 27, 2018
I've just realised I've not been on here since May.  It's mainly the fault of my writing a new verison of Hamlet.  Called, Hamlet-Horatio's Tale, it's a one-man show, played by a woman, Kizzy Dunn, pictured below. And with Sir Derek Jacobi as the voice of Old Hamlet.  And I've got to get back to rehearsals now, so more later.  Come and see us at the Assembly Rooms on George Street.  You won't regret it.  And you can buy me a drink...!  x


Continue reading...

About Us

Nick Hennegan Hello. I'm Nick Hennegan and I started the London Literary Pub Crawl. Most of the blogs on here will be by me. I've always written but my first theatrical success was an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Henry V' (www.HenryVPlay.com) I founded Maverick Theatre in 1994. (www.Maverick-Theatre.com) This pub crawl is really more a promenade theatre performance than a tour and I'm running it with a bunch of enthusiastic local actors and writers. I love sharing my passion for the area and the artists. I also present a radio show on Resonance 104.4fm - London's Arts Station and a podcast on our site. If you haven't visited us in London yet, I hope you'll come soon. And feel free to leave comments or email me at nick @ LondonLiteraryPubCrawl.com - I reply to them all and I love to hear from you.


blog comments powered by Disqus