In June, IWHC and Sierra Club co-hosted an advocacy training in San Francisco. As part of the training, participants were encouraged to host related events in their own communities. The following post was written by Rosemari Ochoa, one of the training participants who went on to host an event in San Diego, California.
For the past month, the world has crowded around televisions to watch the World Cup. Bars and cafes were full of people dancing to Shakira’s Waka Waka song and trying to pronounce player’s last names from countries they can’t place on a map.
Soccer at this level begets competition, camaraderie, athleticism, national unity and international curiosity. But, I think on a smaller, more grassroots scale, soccer can also help us have a much-needed conversation about the intersections of important global issues such as environmental justice, sexual and reproductive rights and health, and gender equity. And the World Cup is the perfect moment to do just that.
In countries around the world, women, girls, and other marginalized populations have used soccer to mobilize and instill a sense of teamwork, self-worth and empowerment. Soccer can serve as a catalyst for community and behavioral changes on and off the field – particularly when it comes to gender roles. Coaches and more seasoned players can become mentors. And competition can create strong bonds and unified determination.
When these elements of the game are applied to other sectors of life, it can translate into big gains for global health. For example, this video by Global Girl Media discusses how a local soccer league in South Africa incorporates HIV prevention education into their sports program. The best part? The video was produced by young girls who receive media training so they can tell the stories that impact them and their communities.
And this effect isn’t limited to South Africa. In my hometown, San Diego, California, World Cup fever has inspired new and dynamic conversations about the links between family planning and the environment. So, on July 6th, I hosted a workshop with the San Diego Regional Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition titled “Sex, Soccer and Everything in Between” to discuss examples like Global Girl Media’s work.
The event featured meaningful conversations about the opportunities and challenges globalization raises, especially for women’s health and the environment. It was okay not to be an expert on these often complicated issues – the mere exchange of opinions and experiences enabled the group to become more invested, involved, and innovative. We discussed that when women and young girls feel self determined, recognized and engaged (feelings which result from playing sports such as soccer, according to the personal experiences of many attendees, including myself), it facilitates goal setting and planning for more successful futures. For girls, that may mean training to play in a tournament or pursue an education. For women of childbearing age, that can mean the ability to exercise their right to choose when and how to have a family. And for everyone, that can mean exercising our ability to plan how to use environmental resources for our future. Regardless, sharing common goals is powerful (pun shamelessly intended).
Now, I’m not going to claim that the World Cup is without its faults- it can be male-centric at times, and is far from perfect. But despite the fact that, for the most part, sports across the world are often considered “male” territory. We should not deny ourselves the opportunity to reflect on how this sport can make a difference in the lives and health of women, families, and communities all over the world. Instead, we should pluck it from the air with the strength and grace of your favorite goalie.