“Sport is a very powerful tool for achieving gender equality”—Marta Vieira da Silva

Remarks by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport Marta Vieira da Silva, at the IOC Women and Sport Awards on 19 March in New York.

Date: Tuesday, March 19, 2019

[Also available in Portuguese]

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Good evening,

It is an honor to participate in this event with UN Women (my second family), and the International Olympic Committee. It's wonderful to be here and join the winners of the Women and Sport Award. I want to congratulate all of you and thank you for making of sports a world that has welcomed more women and girls.

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport Marta Vieira da Silva speaks at the IOC Women and Sport awards. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport Marta Vieira da Silva speaks at the IOC Women and Sport awards. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

My life has not been easy. I was born in a small town of 11,000 inhabitants, in the interior of the state of Alagoas, in the Northeast of Brazil, in a poor family. My father, like many fathers to this day, left home when I was less than a year old and my mother had to work very hard to support my three brothers and me. Perhaps the exhausting journey of work, in and out of the house, left little time for her to bother with the talk of the people about the absurdity that it was a girl playing football among the boys. Prejudice and lack of opportunities hurt me many times along the way. It hurt when the boys did not let me play, it hurt when adult coaches from opposing teams took me out of championships, because I was a girl, it hurt to leave my family at the age of 14 to face a three-day bus trip, with little money in the pocket, and go live alone in Rio de Janeiro to play professional football. But my certainty of where I wanted to go never let me give up.

I am very proud of every part of my story and I know that public recognition of my overcoming history was one of the reasons I received the invitation to be a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport. I accepted this invitation last year with all my heart to continue telling my story and inspiring other girls to persist. Because I do not want to be an exception.

Sport is a very powerful tool for achieving gender equality. In Brazil, girls who have gone through the One Win Leads to Another program, a joint-program between UN Women and the IOC, have transformed their lives and changed the reality around them. We have stories of girls who have completed the program and are now playing in professional teams; girls - some of them young mothers - who have gotten their first job and are changing their family lives for the better; girls leading groups in their schools to discuss gender equality and the fight against racism and girls helping friends and even their mothers get out of violent relationships and seek help. These are the stories we have the responsibility to multiply.

In October of last year, I had the pleasure of going to Buenos Aires to visit a group of teen soccer players and future participants of the program, launched in 2018 in Argentina. There, in the middle of the synthetic lawn of that community, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, it was as if I met myself, many years younger. And they looked at me as if they looked into the future. And I told them, "Keep training. If you believe in yourself, you can achieve what you want". This has been and will always be my message to the girls who mirror me.

But for this international audience of influential people in their various fields of action, I need to remember that not all talented, courageous, and persistent girls will get where I did. Many of them were left behind and many of them will remain along the way, hindered by barriers that are much bigger than themselves. How many girls will have the strength and the luck of overcoming so many obstacles on their own?

We are globally committed to achieving gender equality by 2030. There is much to be done in such a short time! I invite each of you to join me, UN Women and the International Olympic Committee, and invest in the development of girls in sport. It is our commitment to build for them and with them a world in which gender equality in all areas of life is no longer a dream, but a reality.

Thank you.