Every four years, the FIFA Women’s World Cup brings the participation and empowerment of women through sports to the international stage and reminds us of the essential contributions of women to societies around the world. From the first tournament held in China twenty eight years ago to France today, the arena of the Women’s World Cup not only continues to inspire, but also demonstrates the progress that has been made through the leadership of female athletes, role models and their supporters on gender equality.
A key priority for the State Department is to support women and girls’ empowerment across economic, political, and social spheres. One of the ways we achieve this is through sports diplomacy. Sports diplomacy promotes U.S. foreign policy goals by encouraging young people to develop a passion for sports in order to gain leadership skills, achieve academic success, promote diversity, and contribute to stronger communities. In 2019, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs launched “Step In, Dream Big” which aims to level the playing field for women and girls throughout the world. “Step In. Dream Big” has several programs to encourage women and girls to participate in sports.
Programs that are a part of “Step In, Dream Big” include a Women’s World Cup-themed Sports Visitor program, which is convening 75 teen female athletes and their coaches from 13 countries for a soccer and leadership program in New Jersey. In the fall of 2019, the annual U.S. Department of State and ESPN will pair international emerging women leaders in sports with American senior women sports executives across the United States. Through this professional development program, the international women will build personal networks and institutional linkages, and develop participant-led action plans to advance the status of women and girls through sports and bring positive social change back to their communities. Later in the fall of 2019 through the International Visitor Leadership Program, women sports journalists from around the world will come to the United States for a multi-city ECA-sponsored program on the U.S. experience with women in sports media.
Part of the phenomenon of the Women’s World Cup is the global focus on female athletes’ participation. In fact, even in the United States, women were not always encouraged to participate in sports. One of the biggest forces, which opened the door for women and girls to participate in sports in the United States, is Title IX, passed in 1972. For the first time, educational institutions were required by federal law to provide equal opportunity in sports to women and men. This spurred the participation of girls in sports at the grassroots level as well as the creation of professional women’s sports teams in the United States. To that end , as the U.S. Women’s National Team holds the Women’s World Cup Champion title, the positive impacts of Title IX continue to be felt at home and abroad.
The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues focuses on the integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment into all aspects of U.S. foreign policy. We hope that when a young girl watches women playing soccer and participating on the international stage she will be inspired to challenge norms that hold women back in her own community and be empowered to #DareToShine.