Soccer / football is hands-down, the most popular sport internationally. While I was living in Comoros, the sport became my life – young boys in the village playing pick-up games by my house, watching Messi on a projector at a corner store and even rooting for the national Comorian team as they played against Mauritius in the season finale. Everywhere I went, I saw this brotherhood of men of all ages coming together under a common cause. Soccer was a blessing for everyone in Comoros; it gave them something to look forward to after a long day of school and work. And I was lucky enough to experience that – as an outsider, and more importantly, as a female. I was in spaces that other women were often neglected from, and I took those times for granted.
It was until two weeks ago that I saw women playing soccer for the first time. Now, I’m not the biggest soccer fan, but when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNST) achieved their glorious victory over the Netherlands, I did my due diligence to post it all over social media (in true Millennial fashion).
But aside from their big win, it was the deep and complicated discussion around gender equality, pay and other rights that continued to permeate the public sphere long after the celebration. Even before the major win, players like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, made headlines with their demands to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) – more resources, higher salaries, better promotions and training. Long before that, all 28 members of the USWNST filed a lawsuit against the USSF for the same demands on International Women’s Day of this year. Not only did this draw attention to the inequities in major sports leagues, but it garnished a larger group of people (fans of soccer or not) that supported the team’s actions off the field. In just months, the USWNST has transcended sports in an unparalleled way, creating a larger cultural war with a lasting impact for women in the sports domain and beyond.
Although we all can’t be the next Rapinoe, this small feat seems to help young women from all walks of life feel empowered to question the status quo. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as Impact Network kicks off another season of NetGirls, a netball tournament exclusively for girls in rural villages around Katete district in Eastern Zambia. Like in the U.S., NetGirls proves that giving girls the opportunity to play sports has awesome benefits, including: breaking down gender stereotypes, building leadership skills, expanding social networks, providing female mentorship and role models, teaching teamwork, building self-esteem and improving happiness through healthy, social organized activities.
With 100 teams and over 1,200 girls, each new season only gets better!
Congratulations to the USWNST and to each and every one of our players facing off on Saturday.