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WSF Speaks at the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women

Every year in March, women from around the world come together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The purpose is to assess progress on the goals of the past year and to set sights on the year ahead. There are three levels of activities: agreed conclusions, side events and parallel events. The parallel event, in particular, has provided a great opportunity for WSF, and sister organizations, to highlight challenges and progress internationally for women in sport.

Parallel events are programs presented by non-governmental organizations (NGO), like the Women’s Sports Foundation, in coordination with the CSW. For the past several years, WSF has joined with significant NGO partners all committed to growth and development of girls’ and women’s sport programs globally, such as WomenSport International, International Working Group on Women and Sport and American College of Sports Medicine. This year –  in a major first – the four partners were joined in co-sponsorship by UN Women (the women’s serving entity of the UN) in a program entitled “Identifying and Eliminating Barriers to Women’s Professional Advancement in Sport.”

This year’s CSW theme is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. In regions, countries and in communities around the world, sport engages commerce and economic development. This fact holds true for long developed and developing areas. If women continue to be ‘locked out culturally’ of the marketplace relating to sport, they will be locked out in comprehensive ways in society.

At our parallel event, in a unique turn, we did not present a traditional panel to attendees; instead we facilitated five interactive groups. Each expert group leader directed a dialogue around a specific area of focus: coaching with WSF’s Marj Snyder who presented on Beyond X’s & O’s, research and education with Diane Huffman and Chris Shelton, health professions with Carol Ewing-Garber, sexual harassment with Katherine Starr and infrastructure building with Beatrice Frey and Game Mothibi.

The attendees, ranging from 15 countries across the five Olympic regions, huddled up to share and exchange views on barriers and strategies as they described their own experiences in growing women’s sport.

After two rounds of group discussion, the insights of each group were shared and the common themes expressed were strikingly similar.

Take a look at the barriers and strategies below that came out of our discussions and see if they resemble your own experiences.

Barriers in Coaching: having families, a weak/absent pipeline, being excessively criticized for everything

Strategies in Coaching: educate parents/communities on strengths of female coaches, continue/expand conference and training for women coaches, encourage giving back to your beloved sport, in elementary/youth settings put girls up front as leaders

Barriers in Research/Education: safety both in sport and getting to and from sport, abuse, more role models, more funding, weak enforcement of policies for equity

Strategies in Research/Education: gender sensitive syntax, coach education programs designed for inclusion, critical mass versus tokens, pay equity, feature personal narrative from all levels (family, community, national)

Barriers in Health Professions: medical services for retired female athletes, few women physicians can be a problem for women in some cultures, athletic trainers for girls/women, a pressure to perform better for women professionals

Strategies in Health Professions: track numbers for all health disciplines using targets and incentives, support for women professionals coping with stress, building out a male ally network

Barriers in Sexual Harassment: fear of repercussion for reporting, education on what abuse is, verbal/sexual/physical bullying as the norm

Strategies in Sexual Harassment: education at all levels, access to a person outside the system, having an athlete advocate, having sound policies in place

Barriers in Infrastructure Building: systemic gender bias, lack of facilities/transport/access, lack of media coverage, no organized sports for girls, lacking female leadership, uninformed men in National Governing Bodies

Strategies in Infrastructure Building: accountability, incentives, best practice made public, high profile athletes helping out, educational programs focused on combating the stigma of female athletes, adapting facilities/uniforms for girls and women’s needs

The WSF is proud to continue to expand its global sphere of influence by participating in events such as the CSW61. To see more of our work in the international community click here.