“Sport has the power to change lives," as UN Women says. "The ability to drive gender equality by teaching women and girls teamwork, self-reliance, resilience, and confidence... Women in sport defy gender stereotypes and social norms, make inspiring role models, and show men and women as equals.”
Over the years there have been many major wins for women in sport. One great example is when the US women’s soccer team won their fight for equal pay in 2022. Other women’s soccer teams such as Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands, have also made massive strides when it comes to closing the football gender pay gap in their countries too.
In the Olympic world, leaps forward have also been made. From 2012 in London, the first-ever Olympic Games for which every country that competed sent a woman athlete, to Tokyo’s 2020 Games, at which almost 49% of athletes were women — making it the most gender-balanced Games in history.
Despite this progress, gender inequalities still persist within the world of sports. Issues such as unequal pay, gender-based violence, sexist traditions, a lack of targeted investment, along with negative stereotypes and social norms, continue to impact women athletes.
Women continuously have to fight for recognition, to be respected, heard, protected, and supported; the sports industry is no different. But to achieve true gender equality, in sports and everywhere else, we need to consistently and actively show up for women in more ways than one.
As well as watching and engaging with women's sporting events, here are some more ways you can act to support women’s sports.
1. Speak up for equal pay and opportunities for women’s sports
Unequal pay and lack of both investment and access to opportunities is one of the biggest challenges facing women’s sports. Despite progress, women in the sporting world still fall far behind men when it comes to money.
The gender pay gap doesn't just exist in sports either — it's global and affects all sectors and areas of life. On average, women globally are paid about 20% less than men — with the gap being even bigger for women of color. To put that gap in perspective, as reported by Forbes, a 20-year-old woman just starting full-time, year-round work stands to earn $407,706 less than her male counterpart over a 40-year career.
We can all be advocates for equal pay, for both women in sports and women all around the world in all sectors. You can get started by reading up on the gender pay gap and how we can close it — then have a chat with friends and family about why equal pay is important for gender equality in sports and within society.
2. Follow women’s sports and athletes on social media
It’s important to build communities for women and girls to know that they are supported, and a great way of doing this is by becoming part of sportswomen’s online communities — in other words, following them on social media. Through social media you can learn more about the struggles and successes women athletes experience, and discover more ways you can show up for them. Here are some great accounts to follow:
Hajra Khan, @hajrakn (Pakistan)
Hajra Khan is a role model for every aspiring footballer. Khan's an advocate for women in sport, and the former captain of Pakistan's national women’s football team. The now 29-year-old joined and became captain for the national team at the age of 20.
Khan's also a TED talk speaker, world record holder, and UNICEF Menstrual Health Champion. She uses her social media to share about her football career, the work she's doing to inspire the next generation of young women in sports, and highlight women’s football in Pakistan. Follow Khan here.
Dencity - Girls Skate Naija, @dencity.ng (Nigeria)
Ever wanted to be part of a community of women skaters? Then you need to follow Dencity.
Based in Nigeria, Dencity is making waves as Nigeria's first and only women skateboarding collective, bringing together young women skaters across Nigeria and creating a safe space for girls and queer people to learn and grow together through skateboarding, paving the way for a new generation of women skateboarders in Nigeria. Follow Dencity here.
If you’re based in Nigeria, Dencity holds skating sessions every Saturday at National Stadiums in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt.
Just Women’s Sports, @justwomenssports (USA)
Imagine a social media page dedicated to showcasing women’s sports 24/7, well Just Women’s Sports is exactly that — a digital-first media platform committed to bringing women’s sports to a worldwide audience. Just Women’s Sports shares jaw-dropping performances, highlights, and updates, as well as exclusive interviews with women athletes.
3. Go to a game in person
Unless you're based in Australia or New Zealand, heading to a FIFA Women's World Cup match might prove tricky. But there are still plenty of options for checking out a women's sporting event IRL.
Find out what events are happening in your local area, at your school, university or college, or elsewhere in your community, and go along to one — you could take a friend along with you.
By going to an event in person, you're helping highlight that women’s sport can certainly draw a crowd. With more people attending women’s sport games, this encourages sponsorship, which in turn leads to more money for promoting women's sports and paying women athletes equally.
4. Join a local women's team
Are you a fan of women’s football, basketball, or boxing? Or simply want to try out a new activity? Why not sign up for a women’s sports club in your local community and invite your friends along too. You'll get to be part of a community of women who are passionate about sports and have the chance to step into the shoes of your favorite athletes.
If your community doesn’t already have what you're looking for, you could even set up your own at your university, college, school, or workplace.
As the World Health Organisation says, 85% of adolescent girls globally don't get enough physical activity, including exercise and sports. Getting active yourself helps close that gender activity gap, and encourages more women and girls to get involved too.
5. Support women’s sports foundations and advocacy organizations
Over the years, women’s sport foundations, charities, and advocacy organizations have been set up to provide opportunities for women and girls’ participation in sports and campaign for gender equality within the sport’s industry.
A great way you can show up for women’s sport is by supporting the work that these organizations do by volunteering or donating to their causes. There are organizations you can support at all levels — such as the national Women's Sport Foundation in the US, founded by tennis icon Billie Jean King, and Women in Sport in the UK — so check out which organizations are working in your country and community and offer a helping hand.
6. Watch films, videos & documentaries about women’s sport
Just by watching, you'll be helping show a growing interest in women’s sports and women’s stories, but you'll also learn a whole lot too — like sports you might not know much about, and the barriers women in sports face. Here are some recommendations to check out:
'Battle of the Sexes' (2017)
The year is 1973, a crowd sits in anticipation for a history-making tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. To Riggs' surprise, Billie Jean King won the match, beating him in three straight sets. This tennis match became the most viewed televised sports event of all time — with the story being retold in the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes. Watch it on Disney+.
'Athlete A' (2020)
Athlete A is 2020 documentary based on the 2016 USA Gymnastic sexual abuse scandal — described by the Guardian as "the scandal that rocked the sporting world". The documentary tells the story of how US gymnastic doctor Larry Nassar abused girls and young women in his care over decades, and how he was brought to justice in 2017. Watch it on Netflix.
'Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women's Sport' (2023)
Game On is where the worlds of women empowerment and sports collide. The UK documentary — directed by women’s sport activist Sue Anstiss MBE and Jack Tompkins — follows the growth of women's sports in the UK and how it has impacted society, including what's held back gender equality in sports, why things are starting to change, and what the future could hold. Watch it on Netflix, or check out the book of the same name that inspired the film.