Get our free emagazine!

Triumph of Women and Sport

The barriers exist everywhere, including the US. Despite the great strides made in the world of women’s sports, the benefits are still often reserved for the children of privilege.

Marlene Bjornsrud has spent her life in sports, as a collegiate athletic director and as a general manager in the former WUSA, the women’s professional soccer league that disbanded in 2003. She, along with soccer stars Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy, founded BAWSI (the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative), which brings collegiate athletes into underprivileged schools to run afterschool programs focusing on health and fitness.

Just a stone’s throw from elite Bay Area college campuses where women athletes are afforded the same opportunity as men, Bjornsrud faces enormous cultural barriers—poverty, gang families, domestic violence—to involving young girls in her programs.

“I’m increasingly concerned about the huge number of girls who will never have the opportunity to play sports,” she says. “Some of it is pure economics. There’s a high price tag to playing sports even at an entry level. And the other piece is cultural. Some families don’t see the value of girls playing sports, or see it as a negative, a distraction that takes them away from helping with the children or the meals.”

But six years into her program, she is gratified to see girls owning a piece of the playground, becoming more physically active, and being regularly exposed to strong, educated role models. BAWSI has a mothers program to encourage further family support. Bjornsrud has schools lining up to bring BAWSI to their campuses.

“Our BAWSI girls feel connected, they feel special,” says Norma Rodriguez, the principal at Dorsa Elementary School in San Jose, California, which has had a BAWSI program since 2005. “We have fifth graders applying to be junior coaches for the younger girls because they want to be like their team leaders. They want to be role models.”

There are pockets of change around the globe. But quantifying the success of programs is difficult. The tangible benefits—reduced domestic violence and early pregnancy rates, the development of young girls into community leaders—may be impossible to tabulate for years, if ever.

But every organization is fueled by its own success stories.

Women Win supports Boxgirls, which organizes boxing and self-defense classes for girls in Kenya’s Nairobi slums. Vinter, a 12-year-old captain, says:

“I am small, but I am a leader. I train young girls to be strong and confident…and also how to respect others in society.”

Dina Buchbinder Auron, the director of Deport-es Para Compatir, is fueled by the sight of working women in Mexico City, who—after raising their children—began playing volleyball and found new meaning in life. And by an indigenous 10-year-old boy telling her, “I did not know women could play and even do it better than us.”

In Nicaragua, 17-year-old Yelba Sirias has moved from T.E.A.M. Granada to the Nicaraguan under-20 national soccer team. She has traveled with her team to El Salvador and is now working as a coach with Soccer Without Borders.

And in Sweden, serious young Jamil Zina-Zizo notes that when she left Iraq, “You cannot talk about girls’ football. It does not exist.” But when she returned home, she had started the conversation.


Mercy Kareithi's picture

Let's talk about sports

Great piece Ann, great strides in women empowerment through radical means. Quoting Albert Einstein, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them", so way to go soccer, basketball, squash, tennis, name it all.

Soccer has been used in kenya to make peace especially after the PEV-Post election violence in 2008. Some TV programmes have used soccer as the story line. One such programme was 'THE TEAM' that showed how members of a new Kenyan football club learnt to deal with their tribal, ethnic, social and economic divisions.

Viva sports...on y va sweaty revolution!!!

I'm more than a bit shocked to note that you've run, with this article on women being triumphant in sport, a photograph taken by a very talented friend of mine -- without crediting her! For a website with such obvious high intentions this is certainly a low action. Karma is a real bitch, and I expect she'll bite you hard for this if it's not corrected pronto.

I've been on the side of women for 64 years minus one day, at this particular point in my life, and want you to know I registered with World Pulse TM (!) just to give you a piece of my mind. That said, if you wish to redeem yourself and acknowledge my friend's talent as well as appropriating it for your worthy cause, get back to me and I'll remind you who she is. You've got my e-mail address.

Corine Milano's picture

Cookie in New Jersey, Thank

Cookie in New Jersey,

Thank you for your concern about Emily Anne Epstein's photo. It is always our policy to give due credit and compensation to the wonderful photographers who make World Pulse Magazine's aesthetic possible, and we regret that a misunderstanding has lead to this situation. We are in touch with your friend and working on making it right.


Corine Milano
Managing Editor
World Pulse Magazine

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

Myra Musico: My Disability Is Not an Obstacle

Myra Musico: My Disability Is Not an Obstacle

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

EMAGAZINE: Bridging Borders

EMAGAZINE: Bridging Borders

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative