Women′s football: The ongoing battle for equality | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 06.04.2017
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Women's football: The ongoing battle for equality

The empowerment of women through football has been a key battleground in the sport for decades. Some progress has been made but recent events show there's a long way to go.

The news that the US women’s national team have agreed a new long-term labor deal with the country's federation has put the topic of progress and equality in women’s football back into the spotlight.

Since their World Cup victory in 2015, the country's players have been fighting for equal pay. On Wednesday, the US Soccer Federation and the team's union reached an agreement that means that female players will see a sharp increase in base pay and match bonuses.

However, the deal still falls short of guaranteeing pay equal to that received by the US men's national team. This battle is just one of multiple continuous challenges faced by women in football at various levels around the globe.

Football as a tool for change

Non-profit organizations such as Berlin-based 'Discover Football' use the sport as a tool to empower women and work against discrimination. Together with the German interior ministry, the group hosted the Women's Football in East and South East Asia Conference in the German capital this week. The event has seen players, coaches and activists discuss how women's football can be used to fight for women's rights in the area.

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Football expert Monika Staab on empowering women

The vice president of the Papua New Guinea Football Association, Linda Wonuhali, made the long journey from Port Moresby to speak at the event . She was the driving force behind the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, the first significant international football tournament to take place in the country.

"The World Cup has changed the mindset and perception of women in our country," she said 

Papua-Neuguinea Fussball U 20 (Dana Rösiger)

Linda Wonuhali, Papau New Guinea Football Association

Papua New Guinea is often ranked as one of the worst places in the world for violence against women. This was one of FIFA's main concerns when it came to the country hosting the event. Members of the FIFA Executive Council preferred Sweden as a host nation and voted against Papua New Guinea butformer FIFA President Sepp Blatter overturned the decision.

"Despite what we now know about Blatter, he believed in his slogan of 'football for the world and the world for football,' so he gave us a chance and we are forever grateful for that, the momentum of the World Cup still lives on," Wonuhali said.

The event was regarded as a success for the country, even if the Papua New Guinea under-20 team lost all of its group matches and only scored once - against North Korea, who ended up winning the tournament.

"They won the U-17 in Jordan back in September and they came and won the U-20 and you try and figure out what’s going on, it challenges the rest of the world," said Wonuhali.

North Korea has stepped up its efforts to produce high-quality players in its only football academy in Pyongyang. Unlike other Asian countries, North Korea has invested extensively in both its men's and women's national teams. The country has also recognized the sport as a valuable tool to empower women but the regime translates sporting success into propaganda.

'Little in common with the men'

The lack of financial support for woman's football remains a worldwide problem, even in countries such as Brazil where many see football as religion. 

"The only thing we had in common with the men's team was our shirt logo, we had to wear the men's jerseys from eight years prior," Caitlin Fisher, a former football player with Santos FC said.

Frauenfußball in Brasilien Flash-Galerie (Pedro Ernesto Guerra Azevedo)

Women player's of Santos F.C.

Fisher is an American who moved to Brazil in 2004 to play professionally, as the women’s league in her country had folded. Fisher and her teammates could not use the club's training facilities and often had to walk to practice. Thirteen years later, players from the Republic of Ireland's women's team have found themselves in a similar situation. The discrepancy between men’s and women’s team continues to be immense.

"What’s going on? We’re playing for Santos. This is Pele's club, the biggest team and yet we have no resources, zero investment, no media coverage, no visibility," Fisher said.

Quest for equality

After retiring as a player, Fisher started working as a consultant for the players' union FIFPro, in order to fight for the rights of women in football.

FIFPro aims to protect the rights of football players all over the world but while the organization exists since 1965, FIFPro first established its Women's Football Committee at the end of 2014.

Although women's football has made huge strides in recent years, equality is a pressing issue that Fisher strives to tackle in a daily basis with FIFPro.

"It's early days with women's football at FIFPro but solidarity, building a collective voice and protecting the rights of the players is our ultimate goal," she said.

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