Get girls in the game

Get+girls+in+the+game

There is no denying that the female American Olympians dominated in Rio this summer. Collectively these women won 61 medals this summer, contributing to the U.S.’s highest overall scoring total of 121 medals. If the women were their own country, they would have placed fourth overall in the medal count.

These female athletes are exemplary at their respective sports. They are the best in their fields, and this success is aided by the incredible opportunity they have been presented with to create a professional career out of sports.

Throughout history, women have often been oppressed and treated as subordinate to men. Female athletes were often looked at as anomalies. In 1972, the U.S. government opened a new door for female athletes. Title IX helped to counter this archaic mentality.

Title IX prohibits exclusion from any educational or recreational program on the basis of gender. This was a turning point for the U.S., and something all countries should mimic to increase opportunities for all women. Since the implementation of Title IX, the number of female varsity athletes in high school jumped from 295,000 in 1971 to over 2.8 million in 2001, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. Women of that era embraced this new encouragement and support in sport, and took the opportunity and ran with it.

Sport is a powerful tool worldwide, as something that facilitates friendship, fitness, camaraderie and companionship for women. This summer I traveled to Granada, Nicaragua with a program called Soccer Without Borders. The program’s mission is built on the basis of using sport as a vehicle for positive change. Three times during the week we gathered on a small dirt field with the girls and played. With the bare necessities, we created something incredibly powerful: Sheer happiness for everyone involved.

For girls in Nicaragua, soccer provides them with an outlet to exercise and socialize, and its importance could not have been more explicit. Sports are a good thing, so why not encourage it? However, it is easier said than done in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. These girls are motivated, driven and talented. Yet, they are restricted by gender expectations within their culture.

In Nicaragua, the expectation for girls differs vastly from boys. Many girls are required to forgo education, let alone recreational sport, to support their families. During my time there I lived with a local family with two daughters and a son. The 15-year-old daughter attended school every night from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and was expected to clean and cook at home in the earlier part of her day. Meanwhile the boys enjoyed a more typical school day, and spent their evenings playing soccer outside with other neighborhood boys. And sadly, this was a common theme for many families in Granada.

If Nicaragua, along with all other countries, presented girls with the opportunity Title IX facilitates in the U.S., the result would be incredible. Sports empower girls and create a unique camaraderie. It’s encouraging and entitling.

In the U.S., female athletes serve as role models to young girls. U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan inspires young soccer players, while other girls fawn over the chance to meet U.S. olympic gymnast Aly Raisman. Girls in Nicaragua can have this impact also, if the country supported their athletic endeavors.

Female leaders have overcome leaps and bounds to earn their well deserved respect and achievements. We have come too far to abide by the stereotypical gender roles of women as homemakers and care takers, while men achieve greatness. Although it has been eradicated in many cultures, gender equality needs to be a universal understanding.

When you provide women with the encouragement and resources, incredible things happen. My time in Nicaragua only heightened my sense of the significance of what Title IX does and the urgency for other countries to adopt the same legislation. These girls don’t need a multi-million dollar stadium to play, only the support and acceptance of their families and country. If you let a boy kick a soccer ball, let a girl do the same. Equal opportunity is essential, and it will create role models for future generations.