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Empowering Women in Sports

Strategies for Change

Gender equity will not happen by itself we have to work for it and speak out against discrimination. The following are some strategies you can use to bring about gender equity in athletics. The strategies are organized in general from the least time and energy consuming to the most. Everything you can do will help.

STRATEGY 1: Support Women's and Girls Sports

You can support women's athletics at any age. Participate in sports yourself. Attend women's and girls' sporting events. Earmark university contributions for women's athletic programs. Do not be taken in by stereotypes that negate women's athletic abilities and deride women who perform well in sports. Coach, athlete, fan and fundraiser are all roles that can build confidence and initiative, and promote women's leadership.

 

STRATEGY 2: Join a Women's Rights Organization

Title IX and other advances for women in athletics were won through feminist organizing. You can join (or organize) a feminist organization in your school, university, or town. Sponsor programs on Title IX and gender equity, and call attention to policies that unfairly disadvantage women and girls in the sports arena. National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the first Thursday in February, is a great day to plan activities.

See the "Resources" section for national women's rights and women's sports organizations to join.

STRATEGY 3: Challenge the Myths

Stereotypes unchallenged are stereotypes accepted. Familiarize yourself with the myths and point out the discrepancies between myth and reality about women and girls in sports. Arm your- self with the facts provided earlier in the "Exploding the Myths" section.

 

STRATEGY 4: Speak Out Against Gender Inequity

Remember, You're in the Majority! Breaking the silence has a tremendous impact. It puts women's issues at the forefront of everyone's mind and identifies them as legitimate topics to be addressed.

At every opportunity-- in meetings, at conferences, and in the classroom -- point out inequalities in women's athletics. Don't hesitate: feminists are the majority. In a 1986 Newsweek/Gallup poll, 71% of the women surveyed believe the women's movement has improved their lives. Three years later, a Time magazine poll found that 81% think the movement is still improving their lives.

With such data, it is clear that women's issues are supported and should be addressed by those in athletics.

STRATEGY 5: Encourage Other Women and Girls

Your visibility to women just starting out in athletics can make a critical difference in their future. Invite women and girls to informational meetings about athletics and the wonderful things they have to offer. Encourage them to see themselves as players, coaches-whatever role they would like to play. Offer advice on how they can get their athletic careers started and where to go for more information.

 

STRATEGY 6: Push for Gender Equity Policies

Gender equity in athletics applies to three basic areas: participation opportunities, athletic financial aid, and all other athletic benefits and opportunities.

Encourage local, state, and national policy makers to take steps towards ending gender bias by promoting and reinforcing gender equity policies and practices in the Department of Education, federal education programs, and in educational funding and research. Write to the Office of Civil Rights, your members of Congress, your Governor, and members of your state legislature to let them know you want gender equity enforced.

STRATEGY 7: Speak out Against Homophobia

The silence and fear that goes with a climate of homophobia is harmful to all women. Speak out against anti-gay jokes or comments. Push your athletics department to adopt policies that prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gays. And take action when you think someone was fired for being a suspected lesbian (of course, check with that person first and work with her in planning what to do).

STRATEGY 8: Publicize Discrimination at your School or University

Is your school, university, or college in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, including athletics? To find out, answer the following three questions:

  • Are men's and women's athletic programs funded in proportion to the percentage of men and women students?
  • Are opportunities for participation for women and men athletes proportional to enrollment?
  • Is there an unmet need for a varsity women's sport (such as a club sport whose members want to upgrade to a varsity sport)?

If you can prove that participation is not proportional, and that there is an unmet need for more women's sports, and/or if you can prove that the funding is not proportional, your school is in violation of Title IX. Bring this up with the athletics administrators (who no doubt are already aware of it), and ask them what measures they intend to take to correct the inequity. Be sure to let them know about the numerous successful lawsuits women athletes and coaches have brought against schools in violation of Title IX.

Starting in 1996, colleges and universities will be required to disclose funding and participation statistics to anyone who asks, thanks to the Moseley-Braun/Kennedy Amendment to the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Beyond talking to the athletics administrators, you can also meet with college presidents and faculty concerning gender equity issues and the present status of your institution, and place articles or write letters to the editor in school papers discussing facts about Title IX, your school in particular, and your feelings about the discrimination.

You might also want to read up on sex discrimination or contact women's organizations for information on not only how to recognize discrimination but also on how to counter it effectively.

STRATEGY 9: Develop a Media Strategy

The media is vital to creating change. Never hesitate to contact the media and make them aware of actions, workshops, or other activities. Encourage reporters to cover women's athletics in your area. Local radio and TV talk shows should also be encouraged to devote programs to women's athletics.

Support women sports reporters and media coverage of women's sports. Similarly, you can call the media to task when they do not cover women's sports or do not have female reporters.

STRATEGY 10:Consider Legal Alternatives

Sometimes, despite the best efforts to correct a problem, the only recourse is to take legal action. Thus far, legal action and the threat thereof have been largely responsible for advances toward ending discrimination against women and girls in sports.

If you have been a victim of sex discrimination in athletics, try to settle your grievances with the institution personally; if your attempt is not successful, immediately contact the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and work through the regional office of the state in which the alleged discrimination occurred. Another option is to go to a private lawyer; either way, if Title IX violations are found and not remedied, the next step is to file suit.

The National Women's Law Center has a booklet entitled Breaking Down Barriers: A Legal Guide to Title IX, by Ellen J. Vargyas, which gives Title IX basics, remedies, and individual actions in Title IX athletic cases, and selected Title IX practice issues. Another helpful book is Playing Fair by the Women's Sports Foundation. Addresses and phone numbers are in the "Resources" section.

(Empowering Women in Sports, The Empowering Women Series, No. 4; A Publication of the Feminist Majority Foundation, 1995)