Speech: Making equality a reality

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at FIFA conference on 6 March


[Check against delivery] 

Mr. Gianni Infantino, FIFA President,

Madam Fatma Samoura, FIFA Secretary-General,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much to FIFA for inviting UN Women to be part of this important conference that brings together the worlds football constituency to celebrate the International Women’s Day. Remember that what we are pledging today requires us to work for women's human rights not just once a year, once a month or once a day but to awaken and arise ourselves and through multiple actions ignite change with everyone around us every moment!

Herstory in Football

Today we are here to make herstory in football and we are excited to be a part of the new journey FIFA is embarking on. “FIFA 2.0: The Vision of the Future” provides a vision for what FIFA aspires and intends to be once and for all - a more inclusive, gender equal federation empowering all women and girls in its reach which is immense.

I applaud President Infantino’s decision to embrace diversity and believe in gender equality as a core value of this very influential world organization. The recent appointment of Chief of Women’s Football, Chief Member Associations Officer, and FIFA’s first female Secretary General – the first woman to break the glass ceiling in the world of football – show unprecedented progress. You have recognized Ms. Samoura’s ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way this international organization performs. With your championship, you have embraced diversity in the sports world and inspired other male-dominated world organizations to take this much-needed step toward gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls for whom the sticky floors of inequality and discrimination prevent them to be on an equal playing field with men.

UN Women as partner for gender-equal football

UN Women was created in 2010 to galvanize international efforts for the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment at the global, regional, national and local levels.

Through our presence in more than 90 countries around the world, from advancing women's political participation, to expanding economic opportunities for women, to mobilizing to end violence against women and girls, to increasing women's participation in peacebuilding, to making sure that budgets and plans work for women, we are resolved to deliver for all women and girls and to transform their lives.

We do that by driving international standards and commitments on gender equality in every sector, by being a knowledge and practice hub as well as a global advocate and convener, by leveraging strategic partnerships with intergovernmental organizations, CSOs and private sector, by coordinating the UN system and its accountability on gender equality impact and by working in the field in communities.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015, and its Gender Equality Compact, especially SDG 5—goal 5 (High Five!)—has inspired our campaign “Planet 50-50 by 2030. Step it up for Gender Equality.”

A central aspect of our strategy is changing the rules of the patriarchal, discriminatory game - in terms of laws, policies, measures and governance structures and amplifying women's voices and increasing women's roles as leaders and advocates for change.  At the same time, it's about building a solidarity movement for gender equality with engagement of men and boys - through our HeForShe movement and of youth through our Youth LEAPs for gender equality movement among other game changers.

And we have tried to inspire all to take comprehensive actions to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls in all settings through our UNITE to end violence against Movement. With the media we have programs to influence women's participation and engender the content. And sport including one of the most popular and universal ones like football has shown to be an important avenue to do all of this most emblematically and powerfully.

FIFA's Forward Programme for gender equality

We are very pleased to be partnering with FIFA at a time when FIFA’s commitment to diversity and gender equality has been demonstrably impactful.

The existing “FIFA Forward Programme” with increased financial support to federations and their work with women has already contributed to empowering women’s football, for example in Colombia, where the first professional national women’s league started in February.  The “Female Leadership Development programme”, the “Live Your Goals” campaign, the age-group competitions, and this conference for gender equality and inclusion are all steps in the right direction.

It is rightly said that the greatest game to be won is won within and FIFA is taking this to heart by reinventing itself to win the gender equality game.  The implementation of the FIFA reforms is an unprecedented opportunity to make football an equal and inclusive sport at every level, and, beyond that, use the power of football to create a wider gender equal world.  The foundation for gender inclusiveness has been laid through the reform committee report and by revising the FIFA statute, which now recognizes women’s football as n sunrise and growth area in an unprecedented way.  The newly established quota on the FIFA Council brings in six women leaders from the six confederations. However, this is just the beginning.

The full implementation of the reform is key to operationalize the policies and create transformational growth, but this won’t happen organically. The strategy that is currently under development is critical to realize the enormous promise that women’s football offers to the organization and to the game. There also needs to be a change-management exercise to create a shift in culture to one based on performance and inclusion. This change-management exercise will ensure a culture that does no longer tolerate misogyny, sexism or violence or discrimination against women.

The herstory of Football

As you know women have been playing soccer since the 1890s, but it took a long time to grow to the point it is at today.  The first ever UEFA Women’s Championship was held in 1982, and in the 1990s, the first Women’s World Cup and Olympic Women’s Soccer tournament were held.  Now with FIFA’s recent appointments of three women to senior management, there is new impetus to this engendering and feminization of football and the sport continues to rise in popularity. Yet much more is to be done as women continue to be underrepresented in the leadership of FIFA, other sporting organizations as well as in sport outfitters and marketers.

This is a deficit in terms of fair play and is not smart business.  Not only women widen perspectives but they bring new ideas and innovation.  Women reach new audiences and are a powerful market force.  Resent research based on close to 22,000 firms globally shows that companies with at least 30 per cent women leaders had net profit margins up to 6 percentage points higher than companies with no women in the top ranks.  These numbers prove it all!  And Football as a sport, as a profession and industry and economic sector must pay heed and evolve too for the sake of Fair Play but equality in the interest of the game itself!

Women's Economic empowerment, CSW and Sport

Next week, the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place in New York.  The Commission is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.  At the annual session, more than 8600 civil society representatives from around the world are registered to participate in hundreds of events held during two weeks.

This year’s priority theme on “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work” coincides fully with our discussions today.  From employment opportunities for women to parental leave policies, to the rights of migrant workers, to unpaid care work, and to equal pay for equal work, the Commission will discuss in depth issues related to women’s right to work and women’s rights at work.  All these issues apply to the sports industry, including on the football field.

Sport is probably the industry with the largest gender pay gap overall. With tennis being one of the main exceptions, the pay gap is massive, especially for professional athletes.  I am calling on all sports federations to invest in the women’s game and take concrete steps towards closing the gender pay gap until women and men are on an equal playing field.

All stakeholders must come together to rouse the aspirations and dreams of girls and women players to the heights of what they can be and release their energies so that they reach there!

Governments, the United Nations system, civil society, the sports movement and other actors must and have all come together around the recognition of how much sport can contribute to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls.  UN Women and FIFA have come together too on a mission to make football work for women and girls empowerment.

Sport can propel progress if we understand the many benefits it offers to women and girls. Not only FIFA as a federation, but individually, we must contest the stereotypes that hold us all back.  We must champion new, progressive, gender equal norms. Yet much depends on the leadership of those already in the world of sport and iconic soccer players, women and men, as role models and their dedication to actions such as ending gaps in pay or equal access to sports facilities, financial and other resources, training and professional development.

Gender equality is our game and we can master it. Every time women kick a ball, demonstrating physical strength, leadership and strategic thinking, they take a step towards gender equality. As we know, every step of challenging stereotypes counts. And many more kicks are needed to accelerate our progress towards Planet 50/50 in Football latest by 2030.

The Sport’s miracle for gender equality

By empowering women in and through sports, role models are being created and young women and girls are given a chance to see their potential. But one does not need to look at the highest level of sports to see the benefits of sport changing stereotypes and promoting women’s empowerment and leadership.

Sports programmes at the grassroots level and in marginalized, impoverished communities are a successful tool in promoting health and nutrition, reducing restrictions on mobility and social isolation that many women and girls experience. Through sport, women and girls can find safe places to gather, build new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and achievement and pursue new opportunities.

Not only sport empowers women but the social benefits of participation in sport are particularly important for girls, many of whom, especially adolescents, have fewer opportunities than boys for social interaction outside of the home and family and access opportunities for health, education and employment.

Participation in sport enables women and girls to enjoy freedom of expression and movement and increases their self-esteem and self-confidence.  The connection between participation in sport and academic success is increasingly recognized.  Sport facilitates development of the sense of ownership by women and girls of their bodies, which in turn enables them to make better choices in their reproductive lives.

Accordingly, access to sport also empowers women economically. Its employment opportunities to women in a wide range of areas, including as coaches, managers, physical education teachers, and journalists, to name a few.

It is a vehicle for improving women’s and girls’ leadership roles and participation in decision-making. Increase of women in leadership positions in sport would significantly influence attitudes towards women’s capabilities as leaders and decision-makers.

Women in these positions invariably serve as role models for girls in sport and they could also constitute a pool of mentors.

UN Women partnerships in Sport

Leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, UN Women and the IOC, along with our partner Women Win, kicked off the joint Olympic Legacy programme “One Win Leads to Another” in disadvantaged areas of Rio de Janeiro.  The programme creates safe spaces for girls to break social barriers.  It increases the girls’ knowledge of their own bodies, and how to prevent violence and the confidence to access available services.  It equips them with basic economic and leadership skills, which improves their ability to influence decisions that impact their own lives at all levels.

“One Win Leads to Another” proves that the skills provided through sport programmes and through participation in sport at all levels can effectively empower women and girls.  That it builds leadership skills, fosters self-esteem, and supports positive and healthy decisions.

Strength, perseverance, commitment, team spirit, solidarity, and respect for others – these are all values that are central to sports but also to the pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Sport is a microcosm of society. In order for women to excel and lead in society, women’s participation and leadership in sports needs to be fostered and significantly increased, transformative investments are crucial. As in the game of football, victory requires payment in advance.

We are proud of our strong partnership with the Valencia Club de Futbol, who carries the UN Women logo on their jerseys and promotes gender equality in the stadium during continental games, and contributes financially to UN Women’s work.  Joint workshops around the world train development practitioners and coaches on the use of football as a tool for development and empowerment.

We also have been working for many years with the Georgian Rugby Union.  Male rugby players have been trained in delivering powerful messages on ending gender-based violence, and “Sportsmen talk with boys” are held in schools and at games.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mia Hamm, two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women's World Cup winner once said, “My coach said I ran like a girl, I said, if he could run a little faster, he could too”. Paraphrasing Mia, if gender equality could run much faster, society , economy and governance could too.

FIFA and its 211 National federations has the chance to become a beacon to the world by creating equal opportunities for women and men through sport.  UN Women stands ready to support FIFA in the implementation of the new policies to ensure real opportunity for lasting impact; in creating universal, comprehensive and transformative change in women’s and girls’ lives through legacy programmes in countries and in changing cultural norms through joint global advocacy efforts.  We are determined to work together with them and with all of you as one team to play all out, all game, all season for making women and girls win and in turn for making Football win!

A gender equal world of sport as game and as work is our conviction and passion and by no means will this tournament be easy.  Yet, as this gathering of champions will no doubt signal, by coming together and staying the course we will make progress and by playing like the football 11 together as one heartbeat on all fronts, we will reach our Planet 50-50 destination in football and sports by 2030 and leave no woman or girl behind!

I thank you!