Wednesday, February 5 is the 34th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, an occasion that celebrates the monumental achievements of women and girls in athletics. The occasion helps us reflect on the progress made since the passing of federal gender equity law Title IX in 1972, and related policy advancements, while also recognizing the continuing fight to achieve equality in sports. This day is an opportunity to acknowledge the critical role that sports can play in the lives of girls and women. Participating in sports at a young age instills confidence and conveys leadership and team-building skills that can have a life-long effect. A study conducted by EY highlighted that a background in sports noticeably improves a woman’s leadership potential and can accelerate a woman’s career. However, too many institutional and cultural barriers still prevent women and girls from equal access to athletic opportunities. Although National Girls and Women in Sports Day helps raise awareness around the need to continue pushing for more athletic equity, we also celebrate the many achievements that girls and women have made in the last year.
2019 was an epic year for women in sports and one that we all should stop to appreciate. We watched this summer, as the US Women’s National Team clinched their fourth World Cup title in France. We cheered along for all thirteen of their goals in their first game, watched Alex Morgan sipping tea, and were buoyed by team captain Megan Rapinoe’s defiant stance, celebrating her achievements and fight for equality amidst naysayers. Off the field, this team symbolizes so much more than American excellence as they sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination and the equal-pay lawsuit was recently granted class-action status—a call to action echoed by the throngs of fans, who erupted in a chorus of “Equal Pay” following the World Cup winning game against the Netherlands. Several months later inspired by the USWNT, a high school girls’ soccer team in Vermont pulled off a celebrated stunt when they revealed matching shirts under their jerseys that read #EQUALPAY. The girls were issued yellow cards, but their message was received loud and clear. The fight of the US Women’s National Team for gender equity in sports mirrors the fight millions of girls and young women are facing around the country to equalize athletics in school and park and recreation programming once and for all.
We witnessed the triumphant introduction to 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who took the tennis world by storm when she knocked out Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon and reached the third round of the US Open. In October, Gauff won her first WTA Tournament in Austria, making her the youngest tournament winner in 15 years.
In the collegiate world, the Stanford Cardinals won both the NCAA women’s volleyball national championship as well as the NCAA women’s soccer title. Baylor’s women’s basketball team cemented their success yet again, by winning the NCAA National Championship.
2020 is off to a promising start for girls and women in sports. At the Super Bowl this past Sunday San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach, Katie Sowers, became both the first woman and first openly lesbian coach in Super Bowl history. We celebrate this milestone and support Sowers’ message when she tweeted, “If your daughter has a dream of being a football coach in the NFL . . . just let her know this . . . She. Can. Do. It. And she will change the world.”
Here at Legal Aid at Work, through our Fair Play for Girls in Sports project, we work to achieve equal opportunities for girls on and off the field in schools and parks and recreation departments under Title IX and California AB 2404 through litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy–focusing in particular on providing equity to low-income girls of color who are disproportionately and unacceptably left on the sidelines.
In conjunction with National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, together with the Fair Play for Girls in Sports, is currently launching a brand new survey to gather information and gauge girls’ interests in various sports, which will be available in Spanish and Chinese. To our knowledge, this is the first survey of its kind in California and throughout the nation, and we are hopeful the survey will lead to girls being even more accommodated in San Francisco community athletic offerings, and in programs around the state and country as the survey model is shared.
We must everyday celebrate the many victories of girls and women in athletics and commend their strength and character. We further call on each and every one of us to commemorate this day all year round by: supporting a female friend or family member at her next practice or game; encouraging girls and women you know to try sports if they have not already had the chance; by cheering for girls’ and women’s sports (be it in your town or on TV), and to continually keep the progress going until we achieve equity for all!