Women and football: An ongoing journey

At Fishawack Health, we are building an inclusive workplace that is supportive, welcoming, and fair. We are committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) that recognises the value of each member of our community. In line with this approach, our colleagues Petra Martins, Bharath Rao, and Muhammed Karolia from PRMA Consulting focus on gender equality, and take a closer look at the progress made in women’s football, including the England Lionesses’ historic win at the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 final! 

The stereotypes

“You’re all lesbians!”

“Women’s football isn’t the same difficulty or standard as the men’s game!”

“Why can’t you play just because you’re on your period?”

These are just some of the stereotypes, derogatory, and homophobic comments that women have faced in trying to pursue their passion of wanting to play and follow football, a game for everyone. Historically throughout society, women have faced struggles in every walk of life, such as voting, equal pay, etc., and football is just an extension of that.

The obstacles

Petra has enjoyed playing football from a young age and now, as a mother, coaches her young daughter’s team. Petra observes, “Be it facilities, welfare, coaching, injuries… I have experienced negative, dismissive attitudes in playing when I was younger, and even if we were able to play, the facilities and resources on offer were noticeably inferior to the men’s. Dressing rooms, pitches, even kit… everything was almost deliberately poor quality for us.”

“Graeme Souness said something back in August after a heated Chelsea v Tottenham match – ‘it’s a man’s game; men at it’ – whilst sat in a studio next to Karen Carney, the celebrated former England footballer,” says Muhammed, “and the male host, Dave Jones, responded, ‘It’s also a women’s game as well.’ Mr Souness did clarify his comments later to say he was talking about the matches he’d witnessed that day, and not football in general, and that ‘Football is a game for everyone to enjoy,’ but his initial inconsiderate comments are the sort of thing that doesn’t help with the hostile attitudes and stereotypes women already face in simply wanting to play the sport they love. We should be doing more and actively helping to promote women’s football every bit as much as men’s football.”

England’s Lionesses: The new European champions!

Whilst women’s football has grown in stature and respect over the last 10 years or so, Petra, Bharath, and Muhammed all strongly agree that the success of the England women in lifting the European Championship in the summer made huge strides forward: “We noticed an ambivalent sexism – the glorifying of traditionally ‘feminine’ behaviour and demonising ‘unladylike’ behaviour, and we don’t think there was the support there from the start of the tournament that there would have been for the men, either. The support noticeably increased as the country saw the team progress through each game.”

Says Bharath: “Ian Wright was a superb example of championing women’s football – to see a man, a former footballer who won trophies in his career, one of my first heroes who I loved and who started my love affair with Arsenal, openly show his unequivocal support for the women was so inspirational.”

Petra agrees: “My young daughter, who plays football herself now, could see role models not only in the women winning the trophy and the former female footballers on the presenting team but also in former male footballers, too, on the mass coverage of the tournament on TV. This has further inspired her to pursue her footballing hobby!”

Progress made but lots still to do

“It’s all about achieving and deserving to be valued, and being part of tackling microaggressions, all of which the women’s football team has challenged and proven themselves admirably,” notes Petra. “There was a recent story where the West Bromwich Albion women’s team raised the issue of playing in white shorts and the anxiety of that when they were on their periods, and the decision was quickly reached to change the shorts to navy blue. Such a simple gesture but it resolves the anxiety and worries of so many women. It’s clearly caught on, too, as the girl’s team my daughter plays for has also done the same thing.”

“England’s women winning the trophy has put a lot of momentum behind the progress we are seeing now but there’s still lots more to do,” observe Petra, Bharath, and Muhammed. “We still see a lot of negative attitudes, a lot of misogynistic views, and almost a derisory stance, and that needs to be challenged and addressed.”

Petra concludes: “It’s great we have so many advocates now for the women’s game – in fact, the recent women’s England v USA fixture at Wembley (90,000 capacity) was sold out! But this needs to carry on progressing and being moved forward – to both put the women’s game on a more equitable footing now and also to inspire the younger generation, like my daughter, so they can see that there is the support and organisation in place for her, should she decide to pursue playing football to a more professional level.”

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