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Empowering our women through sport
With over 150 of the best women footballers under age 20 in the western hemisphere set to invade this country for the next two weeks, there presents a perfect opportunity for us as a nation to demonstrate our support for women empowerment through sport.
Research has shown that in many countries, it has been recognised that sport can be a force to amplify women’s voices and tear down gender barriers and discrimination. Women in sport defy the perception that they are weak or incapable. Every time they kick a ball or swing a bat, demonstrating not only physical strength, but also leadership and strategic thinking, they take a step towards gender equality.
Participating in sports can benefit girls and women by building self-esteem, challenging gender stereotypes, providing opportunities for leadership, enhancing health and well-being. But exactly how is sports in our country been used to promote gender equity and empower women?
If you ask me, women in T&T are highlighted in public domains at its highest during the Carnival season, as harsh as that may appear. But when you compare the difference in coverage between men and women in the media for sport, politics, entertainment and other means, the difference is vast. How many women are sport ambassadors can you recall at this very moment any that exist in T&T today? Surely many more are worthy of such title.
The T&T Football Association is playing its part by providing more opportunity for women involvement in the game. Over a dozen of the country’s senior women footballers now receive a monthly salary to train while opportunities are provided for women referees, team medical doctors and administrators local. The Local Organising Committee appointed for the upcoming CONCACAF Under-20 championship team is 90 percent women.
There is good evidence that participation in sports can help break-down gender stereotypes, improve girls and women’s self-esteem and contribute to the development of leadership skills.
In several countries such as the United States and parts of Europe, studies show a direct co-relation between girls’ participation in sports and higher education and employment. And the rate here continues to grow in T&T. Over 200 young girls have gained opportunities to further their education at American colleges through football in the past decade with the potential for that number to rise. Currently, there are five players in the T&T Under-20 team who are based at US institutions on scholarships including 16-year-old Kelsey Henry, a former St Joseph’s Convent student from Arima. She is pursuing a major in biology pre-med.
“Football has given me the opportunity to pursue my studies in the United States. I got a football scholarship to attend college and I am pursuing a major in biology pre-med because I want to become a doctor.
And who knows if I don’t end up playing football for the national senior team, maybe I could be the team doctor some day,” Henry said as her eyes lightened followed by a smile of a teenager determined to succeed.
So we have our part to play in encouraging more Kelseys on their journeys and to live their dreams. But also the implementation of sporting programmes aimed at gender equity involves many challenges and obstacles. Not only do girls and women have limited time available for sport, but there is often little value placed on sport activities for girls by their families, by girls themselves, and by their communities. We must convince key leaders and stakeholders to make it a priority and to invest more in our women as sport can empower girls and women within our communities and provide positive health and welfare outcomes.
USA, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Haiti and Costa Rica will all converge here to contest the qualifiers at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, The Home of Football, from Thursday to January 28. Tickets cost only $40 to see promising women on the center stage. Play your part!
Shaun Fuentes served as an appointed FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals and is also a CONCACAF Champions League and tournament’s press officer.
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