Time to take notice of women in football?

Japan has the fourth ranked football team in the world and on Sunday 5 July will be competing in the World Cup final in Canada.

Not a statement likely to be heard about the men’s national team – who are not even in the world’s top 50 – but the women have been going from strength to strength, recently knocking England out of the tournament. 

The 2015 World Cup, which started in 6 June, has seen a renewed passion for women’s football, including its ability to tackle poverty and other issues around the world. There have been plenty of nail biting moments and exciting football, but still the women’s game does not command the same coverage, prestige and cash as the men’s.

Not a level playing field

Stereotypes persist about women in football, as highlighted in a recent video starring the Norwegian team. The women’s game has been labelled ‘boring’ and the players accused of simply not being as good as the men.

Women in football are still judged on their looks, with media coverage dedicated to deciding who the ‘hottest’ players are. Even FIFA, football’s international governing body slipped into this on its website, describing US player Alex Morgan’s style as ‘very easy on the eye’ with ‘good looks to match’. 

A massive gender pay gap also persists across the game. England’s women, currently sixth in the world (the men are fifteenth), earn in one year what male players such as John Terry and Wayne Rooney make in a day.

Football is not alone in this disparity. A 2014 BBC Sport study found that men get bigger prize money in 30 per cent of sports, the biggest gaps being in football, cricket, golf, darts, snooker and squash. 

Football for development

There is no doubt that women’s football is growing and becoming more popular around the world, for both players and fans who are turning out to watch games live and tuning in to television and radio in their millions. The game is also being used as a tool for tackling issues around poverty, health and inequality.

Alongside this year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada, a number of international NGOs and UN agencies hosted the Girl Power in Play symposium. The event, which ran from 18-19 June in Ottawa, focused on the power of girls’ involvement in sport.

The Girl Power in Play campaign was launched as a call to action for global leaders to encourage more girls into football. Its focus is girls’ right to play sport, as well as health, education, nutrition, life-skills and empowerment. As part of the campaign, there will be an exploration of the evidence of the benefits play and sport have on women and girls.

Grassroots Soccer is one of the NGOs using football to reach adolescent girls. Founded by four professional football players, it aims to use football to educate and mobilise young people and stop the spread of HIV, particularly in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

In the Indian state of Jharkhand, Yuwa uses girls’ team sports as a platform for social development, pushing the boundaries of gender norms and gaining local, national and international recognition for girls from lower caste backgrounds. The aim is to combat child marriage and trafficking and keep girls in education. 

After the World Cup ends on Sunday, it seems that for millions of girls and women around the world, football is here to stay.

Find out more about women’s football from the FIFA website

Photo: By idreamlikecrazy, under a CC License