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The World Struggles for Accountability in Sport Gender Equality

Many of you may not know that in late 2015/early 2016, a kind of ‘international Title IX’ was born. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), an arm of the United Nations, established an International Charter of Physical Education and Sport in 1978. The purpose of this Charter is to provide leadership and guidance to the various countries of the world, including nearly all UN members, who have signed said Charter in regard to good governance and good practice in sport and physical education. As might be expected in a document created in the 1970s, there was not a single mention of any element specifically relating to the circumstances for girls and women.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has a history of collaboration with three international women’s sport advocacy organizations: the WomenSport International (WSI), International Association of Physical Education for Girls and Women (IAPEGW) and International Working Group for Women and Sport (IWG). Through the efforts of all, 12 new references to girls, women and gender were added to the 2016 revision of the Charter. As an example of the revisions, Article I generally addresses the practice of physical education (PE), recreational physical activity (PA) and sport as a fundamental human right. We now find in Article 4.1 the following, “Equal opportunity to participate and be involved at all supervision and decision-making levels in PE, PA and sport whether for the purpose of recreation, health promotion, or high performance is the right of every girl and woman that must be actively enforced.”

Globally, PE and sport is organized and funded by federal governments and national Olympic Committees. The United States is relatively unique in the layering we have of school sport (think high school federations), collegiate sport (NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA), state education departments and private clubs. The rest of the world is federalized and there is a very powerful body, associated with the UN, composed of the Ministers of Sport who meet to discuss good governance and practice called the Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS).

The Ministers accepted the revised Charter in 2016 at their meeting referred to as MINEPS V. This revision joined an earlier document approved and signed by the Ministers titled the Berlin Declaration or MINEPS IV. This policy document focuses on diversity and inclusion.

Unfortunately, despite these well-written and comprehensive documents, it is plain to see that inequalities in sport persist unaddressed even though nearly all the countries of the world have promised otherwise. Just as we see with Title IX in the United States, without vigorous monitoring and accountability, pretty words on paper do not produce changes — people do.

It became clear to all involved with serious intentions that it was necessary to establish a new guidance, MINEPS VI, with the following purposes and goals: 1) Develop a common framework to serve as a unified and comprehensive reference for policy makers, framework to be built upon the Berlin Declaration, the International Charter (revised) and linked with the recently approved UN Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030; 2) Identify, with support of UNESCO, resources for training modules, advocacy documents, monitoring and evaluation standards and tools, indicators, self-assessment tools and sources of up to date good practice; and 3) Formulate an ‘International Action Plan’ to support active implementation of the common framework.

These Ministers meetings (MINEPS) are relatively short and designed for developing understanding and commitment among the Ministers. The laborious tasks of preparing the ‘meat and potatoes’ of Ministers’ work falls to UNESCO and various technical groups coming from the sport, PE and PA world. The Women’s Sports Foundation and international collaborator groups have been deeply involved in all this work over the last 5 years.

To prepare for the upcoming MINEPS VI, three themes were extracted from three core documents (Declaration, Charter, UN SDGs). The themes are as follow; 1) Developing a comprehensive vision of inclusive access for all; 2) Maximizing the contribution of sport to sustainable development and peace, including through values and civic education, major sport events, awareness of ecological factors in sport and economic development; and 3) Protecting the integrity of sport including good governance, fighting against ‘fixing,’ anti-doping and anti-gender-based violence associated with sport. Various research and professional organizations, including WSF and WSI, have official consultative status to the United Nations and we are proud to serve as key contributors in preparation for these meetings to advance equality.

As a lead advocate of Title IX, the WSF is proud to continue the fight to ensure access to sport for all girls and women both nationally and abroad.


Read part two of this two-part series >>