You can’t. Two words women and girls have heard for centuries – especially when it comes to sport. The everyday challenges faced by women and girls makes the simple enjoyment of a game like football an uphill battle for many.
Yet in June, in a game like no other, two football teams composed entirely of women from more than ten countries will walk out on a volcanic ash pitch at the top of Mt Kilimanjaro - an altitude higher than Everest Base Camp - to prove that women can and will. It’s set to break the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude game ever played.
“The playing field is not equal” Says Laura Youngson, co-founder of the Equal Playing Field initiative.
“We want to use the climb to highlight the gender inequalities faced today by women in sport. Women have fewer opportunities to play sport, get paid less when they do, and don’t get the same coverage or respect in the media. I don’t want to be having this same discussion with my future children.”
The stats speak for themselves: 1.8 million fewer women are active each month in the UK than men. Even in the US – arguably one of the best countries for sports equality – at age 14 girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. And a vicious circle between poor media visibility and poor investment emerges. Women’s sport in the UK accounts for only 7% of total sports coverage and Women’s sport sponsorship accounted for only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013.
But it’s the everyday discrimination that grinds people down or gets people up.
“A lifetime of small interactions built up to an all-encompassing roar: an exclusion from a meeting because I was female; the guy being asked for explanations even though I was more qualified; the jest and so-called banter. I pass it off but kept thinking, it’s not just, it’s not equal, I can’t be complicit and stay quiet any longer”
“I remember getting a message at an un-nameable early hour from Laura - full of exclamation marks, and the words: I've had an idea!” says Erin Blankenship, Laura’s co-conspirator and Equal Playing Field’s other co-founder. “I knew it was going to be something great, was going to involve an adventure, and was something that I wanted to be a part of. Little did we know then how epic that idea would become.”
“I've loved and played football as long as I can remember and I wanted this project to reflect the love of the game above all else – sport has this capacity to transcend discrimination like little else. Doesn't matter who you are on a field. So as much as I revel in an opportunity to set a world record - in a game I love more than almost anything and around a cause I deeply believe in, it was important that we create tangible impact as well” says Erin.
So after breaking the world record, the women will disperse back across the planet and work with local teams and organisations and run football clinics in ten countries to support the development and sustainability of women's football globally.
“Now we are looking at directly impacting thousands of girls and women in more than 14 countries, and supporting the women already fighting for their rightful place on the pitch at the global-elite level - which is exactly what we should be doing with this spotlighted opportunity.”
Erin and Laura have started something unique and have generated huge enthusiasm and support for the project.
“Like many kids, I grew up reading the Guinness Book of World Records and felt inspired by their motto, ‘Dedication is what you need’. I found out that we can set a record that requires teamwork, adventure and most importantly, dedication. And I decided I would find 33 other adventurous women to do that with,” says Laura smiling.