Using women’s football for social change


FC equality

“I don’t know what to say,” says Paula Howells of Lewes FC. The midfielder is nervous in an upstairs room at The Grand Central pub in Brighton one evening in March this year:

“Just talk about the hurdles you’ve had to overcome as a footballer,” I said, amazed that this young woman, capable of scoring the most incredible goals on the pitch, ever felt like she absolutely couldn’t own the room.

We are awaiting the arrival of the ‘Brighton Belles’ – the Women’s Institute group for central Brighton – for their monthly meeting. We are the star guests.

I regularly lecture for women’s groups on “Equality FC” and why Lewes Football Club was the first to close the gender pay gap in football – by dividing playing budgets equally. And I love having a footballer with me because she always – always has stories to tell about the gender struggles she faced on the road to reaching the elite league with Lewes FC.

Usually their experiences involve having to pay for their own equipment and travelling, the last choice of pitch time at their clubs, struggling to find girls’ or women’s teams to play with, being denied gifts from sponsors because they don’t are only for men’, gender-based abuse from male fans – or getting little or no medical attention for injuries.

But Paula, passionate about football from a young age, recounts an incident that occurred in 9th grade at school while the (men’s) World Cup was underway. His school had agreed to give all the boys the afternoon to watch England, but the girls had to stay in school all day.

Paula Howells, 13 – already a better footballer than any boy in her school – has campaigned against this, keen to see her heroes at the World Cup. But in vain. “The school said it wasn’t allowed and everyone had to go back to school, and I got in a lot of trouble for that!” she told us.

Our Howells

Twelve years later, you’ll spot Howells at the Dripping Pan on a Sunday playing for Lewes, spurred on by fans gallantly chanting “Our Howells, In the middle of our pitch,” to the tune of Madness’ “Our House,” every time she has the ball.

Here she plays on the same ground as the Lewes FC Men, with the same training facilities and the same coaches supporting her development, with equal marketing resources behind her and her teammates, knowing that the fans are paying the same price for the see than her male counterparts. . Why should it be otherwise?

Not suitable for women

Well, the male bastion of football is a special case of sexism. It’s the most popular sport in the world, closely followed by some 3.6 billion fans worldwide, mostly men, who have been known to say it’s more important to them “than my girlfriend”.

It is played primarily by men (most major footballing countries having banned women from playing at some point in their history, making the game institutionally and culturally masculine). And when it is shown on TV or reported in newspapers, almost every men’s game is covered. You’d be forgiven for thinking women didn’t play.

Of course they do. And England have just won their first major football trophy in 56 years, ending 101 years of injuries for female footballers banned from playing in England from 1921 to 1971 on the FA’s dubious grounds that football was a “very unsuitable for women.

While many have been caught up in the celebratory atmosphere of these happy Euro games here in England – some are following for the first time – there has inevitably been some sexism to navigate.

Women’s Euro 2022

Much like Paula’s school a decade ago, government officials very quickly ruled out the possibility of an additional public holiday before the event and, of course, annual and sick leave levels were well below the period preceding the men’s Euro last year.

Conversely, sexist comments online have increased, as noted by Team Heroine and Areto Labs. Despite 17 million people watching England triumph over Germany in the final at Wembley, we know that 31 million viewers watched the men’s final on TV and there is still a big difference in attitude towards the men’s and women’s football.

Interest has gone up several notches, but women’s football still has a long way to go before it reaches the climax of men’s football. While this may not happen all at once, it is heartening to think that women’s football – with all its stereotype-busting potential and strong values ​​of inclusiveness, inspiration and teamwork – is not maybe a few years away from reaching the kind of influence that we see. in the men’s game.

Make women’s football work for you

To achieve this and allow women’s football to develop on a trajectory that is true to its history and mission of culture change, workplaces can use it as a means to change sexist and misogynistic attitudes among employees:

  • Arrange group tours to support your local women’s team matches
  • Organize women’s football singing workshops during lunch breaks aimed at encouraging female employees to sing (hint: start by showing a short excerpt from the Hakka of the New Zealand rugby team)
  • Consider hosting work days or meetings at your local women’s football club, welcoming female employees into the environment
  • Invite a player from the local women’s team to give an inspirational lunchtime talk on her course (and pay her for it!)
  • Include female colleagues in conversations about football and make sure it relates to women’s games too

The Lewes FC women's team in action.

  • Read up on the history of the women’s game – here’s a great article by Emily Bowe from ‘The Level Playing Field’
  • Consider sponsoring a women’s game or team to show your employees your alignment with their values
  • When talking about the World Cup next year, make sure you call it the ‘Men’s World Cup’ – language matters
  • Arrange opportunities to watch screenings of women’s football together – you could even show that great Lewes FC gender equality documentary!
  • On that last note, consider buying shares in parity football clubs. For us, this will help us in our ambition to bring our women’s team into the Women’s Super League alongside the big clubs in the Premier League.

Football reflects and impacts the rest of the world, and as England manager Sarina Wiegman said in her recent post-victory interview: “We have changed society”. Help cement this change and build on it, so that everyone can happily respond to invitations to the fantastic evenings that are women’s football matches.

Interested in this topic? Read #CallHimOut: Lewes FC’s gender equality campaign moves towards a male ally


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