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Full court progress: U.S. UN Mission Geneva gets in the game to empower women through sports

By Trina Bolton, Program Officer, U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited Division May 22, 2015

“One of the best places to learn valuable skills and have access to valuable resources is on the playing field…Through sports diplomacy, we can highlight the importance of providing equal opportunities for women and girls.”  Ambassador Paula Hamamoto

On May 7, Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto—U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva—highlighted how girls around the world can harness the power of participating in sports to realize the futures that they deserve. Her remarks were made to an international group of participants in this year’s Work in Sports Exhibition (WISE). WISE is an annual convention that convenes former or current athletes and representatives from around the world who are involved in sports marketing, sports for social change, sports journalism, and sports entrepreneurship. Held in the Olympic capital of Lausanne, this activity served as an ideal platform for the U.S. Department of State to underscore its commitment to advancing the status and rights of women worldwide through a variety of foreign policy means—including sports diplomacy.

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As a self-proclaimed “Title IX” baby, Ambassador Hamamoto emphasized how the 1972 passage of this U.S. law on gender equality in sports and education provided opportunities for her to play sports growing up. As research has validated, an individual’s participation in sports presents a host of benefits including improved health, enhanced academic success, and increased self-confidence and leadership ability. These values are important not only on the court and the field, but also in the classroom, boardroom, city hall, and Embassy.  Studies show a direct correlation between girls’ participation in sports and higher education and employment and an Ernst & Young study found that 96 percent of female senior executives participated in sports at some level. Women’s increased access to sports and rise in the American professional ranks is directly linked to Title IX. While Title IX has been a game changer in the United States, Ambassador Hamamoto emphasized that work remains to “level the playing field” for women in the United States and around the world—not only in sports, but across the board in civic and business leadership positions.

How is the U.S. Department of State working to create more entry points for women and girls around the world to reach their full potential in society? Through endeavors like the USUN Mission Geneva’s “Future She Deserves” and U.S. Department of State’s “Empowering Women and Girls through Sports” initiatives.

The overarching objective of the Future She Deserves Initiative is to protect and empower women and girls through innovative partnerships with international institutions and multilateral collaboration across a spectrum of sectors—including sports. The initiative’s four key pillars aim to address gender based violence; ensure adolescent girls’ have access to health and wellness services; empower women economically; and promote leadership opportunities. In lockstep with these themes are the goals of the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative. Through the U.S. Department of State’s people-to-people sports exchanges, international women and girls are becoming change agents in their communities—using sports as a means for positive social change across the globe.

For the follow-on panel, Ambassador Hamamoto was joined by Honey Thaljieh, FIFA’s Corporate Communication Manager, and Trina Bolton, U.S. Department of State Program Officer for the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative. The session was moderated by Donna De Varona, Olympic gold medalist and trailblazer in women’s sports.

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As an alumna of the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Women’s World Cup Exchange and first female in the Middle East to obtain a FIFA Master, Honey shared her perspective as a living and breathing example of someone who has used sports to break social and political barriers. From her work as a U.S. Department of State Program Officer in the Sports Diplomacy Division, Trina expounded on the “behind the scenes” coordination that takes place between her office and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, the Department’s longtime cooperative partner on the Initiative. She described the planning that goes into the outbound and inbound sports programs and called attention to both the success stories and challenges experienced by alumnae with a focus on the emerging leaders of the Initiative’s flagship espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program.

By opening doors of opportunity for girls and women to get in on the game…to run a race, score a goal out on the soccer pitch, or play wheelchair tennis…we can help propel their personal accomplishments and contributions to their communities. Who is ready to become a champion of creating more sports opportunities for women and girls?