The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off on July 20, and as the best women’s teams prepare to take part in the beautiful game, the lead up to the tournament has been paved with discussions of, and protests for, financial equality in women’s sports.

The battle for equal pay in women’s sports is not just about money. It’s about demanding a recognition and respect for women’s contributions that’s on par with men’s. And while it’s a conversation about sports, really, it’s a conversation that goes a whole lot wider — with implications across every sector and every area of life. If professional footballers can’t achieve equal pay, what hope do the rest of us have?  

From the highest paid through to the poorest people in the world, the gender pay gap is affecting us all and, honestly, it’s time the world stopped acting like it’s okay to so consistently undervalue women’s work and successes. 

When it comes to football, or soccer, many women’s teams have been standing up against unequal pay for their contributions to sport in recent years. 

South Africa’s women’s football team, Banyana Banyana, is one of the teams topping headlines in the run up to this year’s World Cup for their calls for equality. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on. 

The team made international news earlier this month for boycotting their send-off friendly match against Botswana, arguing that not only was the soccer pitch in sub-par condition for the match, but also that South Africa had no plans to fairly compensate them for competing on behalf of the country. 

While FIFA has announced ​​that all players in the Women’s World Cup this year will get at least $30,000 each (a historic first), the South African Football Association (SAFA) on the other hand isn't paying anything to the country’s women's team — a significant lack of support for women's players compared to what their male colleagues have received from SAFA. 

Back in 2019, when South Africa’s men’s team Bafana Bafana made it to the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (which they lost), they received a delicious R520,000 ($28,817) from SAFA for each player. Comparatively, when the women’s team won the Africa Cup of Nations final in 2022 and became the current reigning champions, they received R120,000 less from SAFA per player than the men’s team. 

Again for those at the back: the men didn’t win, the women did, and yet the women players received significantly less financial recognition than the men regardless. 

In fact, Banyana Banyana has been running circles around the national men’s soccer team for years. They’ve proven themselves to be among the top women’s teams on the African continent, making it to the semi-finals or finals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations every competitive year over the last decade before finally winning it in 2022.

In comparison, when last did the men’s team, Bafana Bafana, hold the title of best on the continent? 1996. In fact, it’s been over two decades since they even made it to the finals of the men’s continental competition. 

What About Other Women’s World Cup Teams?

Take the US women's soccer team, who've won the Women’s World Cup more times than any other women’s team in the world, and yet for years, were earning less and had a completely different pay structure to the men’s team. 

For the sake of comparison, the US men’s team last made it to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, and have come nowhere near the actual final since 1930. 

This is important to consider because simply qualifying for the tournament earns players money. According to ESPN, the US men’s soccer team can receive $2.5 million for qualifying for the World Cup. The US women’s team, on the other hand, could earn up to $750,000 for the same thing. 

The women’s team fought against this disparity, and the disparity in salaries and payment structure overall, and won their case in 2022 — with the US Soccer Federation then announcing that it would pay the men’s and women’s national teams equally. 

Another example of a team that has managed to fight to close this gap, is Australia’s women’s soccer team, who successfully negotiated a four-year deal for equal pay. Under the deal, the women’s team, the Matildas, are not only receiving equal pay, they’re also seeing investment in the women’s sport by receiving the same level of coaching and support. 

These US and Australian cases prove that not only is closing the gender pay gap something that’s worth fighting for, but it’s something that can be achieved. 

Germany’s women’s team, meanwhile, who’ve won the World Cup twice since the women’s competition was founded in 1991, are going into this year’s World Cup tournament knowing that they’ll earn $346,000 less than the men’s team — who were quickly knocked out at the beginning of their World Cup last year. 

South Africa and Germany aren’t the only ones either; other teams like Nigeria, Canada, and England have all been fighting the good fight for proper recognition for women's sporting efforts and achievements.

It’s extremely important to highlight, like we said at the beginning, this is a conversation that goes way beyond the world of sports. It’s an issue that spans the whole world, with women’s work being underrecognized and undervalued across every sector and every area of life, and it’s all perpetuating the global gender inequality crisis. 

In fact, women globally are paid about 20% less than men, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO); in health care, women earn 24% less than men; women in agriculture earn on average 82 cents for every dollar that men earn. 

Meanwhile, the UN has highlighted that, at the current rate of progress, it’ll still take about 300 years to achieve gender equality. 

Need we go on? 

There’s barely a global industry where women and men earn the same, or where women earn more. Frankly, it’s embarrassing — there’s simply no reason for such pay gaps to exist in 2023, except that women and their work are intensely undervalued, despite having so much to bring to the table. 

The answer then is simple. We need to invest more in women. Investment from sports entities in recognizing and celebrating women's skill and sporting excellence; investment from the private sector in ensuring brilliant women are getting into leadership; investment from governments in equity for women in health care, in education, and more. The answer is: show women the money.


Demand Equity

If Women Soccer Players Can’t Get Paid Fairly, What Chance Do the Rest of Us Have?

By Khanyi Mlaba