Giving gender inequality the red card
This summer, as Chelsea FC's global charity partner, we travelled with Claire to visit our Champions of Change programme in Colombia.
This summer has been amazing for shining the spot light on women in sport, from the Cricket World Cup to the UEFA European Championships and the Rugby World Cup.
This Sunday is the start of the new season for Chelsea Ladies in the FA Women’s Super League (WSL). It’s also our first match in our new stadium. With the rising star of women’s sport here in the UK – something that’s not always been the case – there’s much to celebrate.
But what we take for granted here is not even on the horizon in some countries.
Growing up, boys used to tell me that girls can’t play football. In primary school, they wouldn’t let me join in. They said that I could be the referee – and I would say, ‘fine as long as I can be involved’. So I used to make my own red and yellow cards and tell them they were sent off and I was going to play now!
I’ve also been in situations where my parents asked if I wanted to try dance classes – that is a total cultural expectation. I am a girl, so I might like dancing.
So when I was asked to visit the Plan International and Chelsea Champions of Change programme in Colombia, I was keen to see and understand how the staff were using football to break down gender stereotypes.
How is the sport I love being used to teach young women and men about equality and respect, in a country that has problems with gangs, guns and domestic violence?
A huge desire for change
My first stop was Clamencia, a community that has very little. To put it into context, they have no running water and receive a delivery of water from a tanker just once a week.
Their training facilities are also a world away from ours at Cobham – a hardcourt pitch that has seen better days, with no shade in the intense heat and humidity – but that didn’t dampen spirits!
The young people I met had a huge desire for change and were proud to be part of the programme. They were also eager to tell me what they had learnt – and how their attitudes had changed.
One of the highlights for me was getting to train with our Chelsea Foundation coaches and play a football tournament with the young people in the community of Nelson Mandela.
We played a game of football based on a methodology called Football3. It’s a game of three halves (thirds!) – the first half you decide as a team what rules you are going to play by, the second half is the match and the final half is a team discussion to see if you met the rules you set.
There is no referee, and players are encouraged to resolve their own conflicts, an approach that promotes fair play, inclusion and respect.
In the game I played, we agreed that we all had to celebrate together when we scored, that a girl and a boy both had to score a goal, and that we had to try and make sure every person on the pitch touched the ball before we scored a goal.
Together, the approach teaches you different skills, including problem solving, group discussion and creating leaders – showing that girls and boys are equal on and off the pitch.
Giving girls the confidence to challenge stereotypes
Before, girls and boys in this community never played sports together. Now, playing football has given girls the confidence to challenge other stereotypes off the pitch, such as the age-old view that a women’s place is in the home.
Football is a useful tool, as everyone is equal as soon as you step on the pitch. Everyone is a player, a colleague; you are all fighting for the same goal. Girl or boy, you both need to do the same amount of work – therefore you are equal.
That respect stays with you when you leave the pitch, and hopefully flows over into wider society.
It was an incredible experience visiting the two different communities, each with the same goal to breakdown gender stereotypes.
I was there as an ambassador for Chelsea and as a role model, to show the girls and boys that women can be successful in sport, that girls can be professional athletes, and that gender equality has given me the opportunity to become a professional footballer in the UK.
Plan International is doing a great job to try and eradicate inequality between genders. I can see how Champions of Change is helping the next generation and how football helps to facilitate this change.
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