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EU High Level Group on Gender Equality and Sport, 16.2.2021, Terhi Heinilä

Madame Commissioner, Director of Sport, dear colleagues of the High Level Group on Gender Equality in Sport,

Thank you kindly for this opportunity to give a brief introduction of the Gender Equality in sport – Proposal for Strategic Actions 2014-2020.

1. The Gender Equality in sport – Proposal for Strategic Actions 2014-2020

This process started in 2011 when Commissioner Androulla Vassilliou invited the International Working Group of Women in Sport (IWG) and European Non-Governmental Sport Organisation (ENGSO) for a joint meeting.

IWG, ENGSO and EWS drafted a Position Paper with recommendations and Strategic Actions for Mme Commissioner who established a working group to prepare the document.

The strategic actions were based on the following documents: Eurobarometer on Sport and Physical Activity 2014, the Brighton Declaration, now Brighton plus Helsinki Declaration on Women and Sport with 600 signatories of international and national sport organizations. Also, the Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and the European Strategy for Equality between Women and Men (2010-2015) provided important policy recommendations on women and gender equality in sport.

The strategic proposal included theories, research and practical experience and called for development and implementation of national and international strategies. It had dual approach to gender equality: specific actions and gender mainstreaming and a joint political agenda of the EU – and the European sports – to support the implementation of gender equality in sport.

Themes of the strategic proposal

The strategic proposal had four main themes: Gender balance and decision-making in sport. As we are aware, women form a minority in all sports, at all levels in all countries when it comes to decision-making positions. The objective 2020 was a minimum of 40 % of women and men in executive boards and committees of national sport governing bodies and 30 % in international sports organisations located in Europe

Gender equality in coaching.

Fight against gender-based violence in sport. The experience of sexual harassment increases from the recreational to the elite level. Much has happened since 2014, and the proposal was written four years before #metoo movement. Now, also women in sport are often speaking out and inspiring others to do the same, although the problem is still highly actual and rooted in the structures in all levels in sport.

Guidelines on how to use certain tools, such as gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting, gender impact assessment were underlined in this document, as well as research, monitoring, evaluation and financial support.

Fight against negative gender stereotypes in sport and the role of the media. There are still huge differences in the media coverage of women’s and men’s sports and a long way to reach the objectives delivered 6 years ago.

Examples of implementation: Yle act for gender equality

However, I would like to underline that there are some positive developments in the field. Finnish broadcasting company Yle participated in a project for concrete acts for promoting gender equality led by the National Council of Women of Finland and the Council for Gender Equality. As a result, Yle increased the percentage of women in sport news by making broadcasting of team sports gender equal. The company aims for 50 per cent coverage of women’s sport in all sport broadcasting.

Yle also broadcasted successfully the women’s football and ice hockey world championships in 2019 at the same level with men’s games including studios, experts, all interviews.

And I also would like to inform about progress made last week: Regarding the implementation of the EU ’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive Finnish government has decided to add women’s football and ice hockey World Championships and other major tournaments on the list of events to be broadcasted nationally.

Published at the 6th IWG World Conference

Gender Equality in Sport, Proposal for Strategic Actions 2014-2020 were introduced by the Group of Experts to Commissioner Vassiliou in 2014 and published by Mme Commissioner at the 6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport in Helsinki 2014 with international sport organisations present such as IOC, IPC, FISU, as well as the European Union, the Council of Europe, WHO and UNESCO.

The conference had 1000 participants from almost 90 countries from all continents with Tarja Halonen, former President of Republic of Finland as Patron. Without strong commitment and support from Commissioner Vassiliou and high-level cooperation the launch of the strategic plan would not have been possible.

There are some examples of the current figures.

2. Gender equality in the current Commission

At the moment there is certainly a political momentum for gender equality in the European Commission as it is one of the priorities of the Commission, strongly underlined by President Ursula von der Leyen. And there are women leaders in sport in the Commission. Working for gender equality is to give everyone the possibility to be there, standing on the starting line, ready to break the records.

3. Further challenges: Populism and the impacts of the pandemic

However, we have received further challenges. There are over 500 populistic movements in Europe. These movements are often hostile towards women’s rights and women’s increased power in decision-making. It is important to evaluate the impact of the rise of populism on gender equality in sport.

At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected to sport and physical activity around the world. One impact of the long pandemic is that it often pushes women and girls aside from the competitive and top-level sport, as well as widens the barriers faced by women.

4. Further opportunities for commitment and implementation

Furthermore, the challenging part is that the objectives and policies of the Strategic Proposal have not been implemented sufficiently.

It is important that this work goes on with this new High Level Working Group. And during this new term we certainly need stronger commitment to the implementation of these excellent objectives.

It would be essential to commit to the organised sports, as well as the Member States in the upcoming work and to implement the results of this working group. And to keep the focus in the action plan, in concrete measures of the chosen priorities.

We also should underline mainstreaming gender equality in sport in the European Union both in the policies and in the funding programmes.

5. Importance of commitment and implementation

Strategic work done in political level is long-term work. Like Birgitta said, it is an endurance sport.

Just today in our national webinar on gender equality in sport, President Halonen challenged the Finnish sport leaders to commit into gender equality in the decision making of the sport federations. The change can happen only with strong commitment of the highest level in sports.

As we have seen in the politics around the world, women are rising and taking more high-level posts.

Girls today can grow up seeing women leading their countries and seeing that it is normal. The same way girls can look up to women athletes and see that that can be my way.

We just need to follow up the development and make sure that women end up in places where they can break the records but also change the rules. We have a unique opportunity to continue to good work and make sure that the previous objectives are implemented.

Thank you for your attention.

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