Shortly after International Women's Day, the International University Sports Federation held its Gender Equality Webinar on 11 March with participants from its Gender Equality Committee, national and continental university sports federations, and FISU Student Ambassadors.

FISU President Leonz Eder welcomed the participants and helped set the tone for the session by commenting: "Everyday life reminds us of the progress that still needs to be made in terms of women's representation in sport, both on and off the field." 

He was followed by Rosaura Méndez, member of the FISU Executive Committee and Chair of the Gender Equality Committee. She thanked the attendees for the work done so far and noted that equality isn't just a fundamental right, but is a catalyst for a more prosperous world, as reported Doug McLean for FISU. 

Michelle Tanner, Vice-Chair of FISU's Gender Equality Committee, moderated the session and spoke about FISU's work on the issue, which includes using the UN Gender Equality Guidelines to ensure that FISU has the right policies, procedures, promotions and programmes in place to support women. She also gave an interesting example of how, for the first time at the Chengdu FISU Games last summer, countries had two flag bearers for the Parade of Nations, one female and one male.

Michelle Tanner, Vice-Chair of FISU's Gender Equality Committee. FISU
Michelle Tanner, Vice-Chair of FISU's Gender Equality Committee. FISU

This led to presentations by the latest winners of the FISU Gender Equality Awards. Samar Mousa, winner of the Gender Equality Champion Award, spoke of her experience in leading the development of Palestine's first women's football team as head of athletics at Bethlehem University. Her aim was to give young women the opportunity to fulfil their potential, realise their dreams and to explore new things in life through football. 

Despite a lack of funding and opposition from conservatives, she persevered, working directly with families to persuade them to allow the girls to play and helping them navigate Israeli checkpoints to ensure they could play. The team was recognised by FIFA in 2008 and has since been featured in several documentaries. It is all testament to the importance of including girls and women in sport in Palestine and around the world. 

The Portuguese Academic Federation for University Sport (FADU) received the FISU Gender Equality Project Award for its 'Challenge the Numbers' initiative. FADU Secretary General Arménio Coelho presented to the group and how this initiative has achieved its main objective of increasing women's participation in all aspects of sport - a 20% increase in the number of student athletes participating in university events and a 15% increase in the number of delegates, leaders and coaches.

The Portuguese Academic Federation for University Sport was awarded during the Webinar. FISU
The Portuguese Academic Federation for University Sport was awarded during the Webinar. FISU

Examples of this work include a podcast to help inform people about gender equality issues in sport, a requirement for teams participating in the Portugal University Games to have an equal number of women and men, and the creation of the Gender Equality Seal in University Sport, awarded to clubs that demonstrate strong practice in this area. 

The session was concluded with a presentation from Annamarie Phelps, former Vice President of the British Paralympic Association, Olympic rower, and now Co-Chair of the Global Executive International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG). A key part of her message focused on the need to fix the sport system, which has often asked women to adapt to it. This means creating policies from government level down that support women's sport.

She highlighted five key themes that are important in achieving gender equality, diversity, and inclusion: 

-Participation: in many parts of the world, there is still a polarisation around women's participation in sport. 

-Leadership: while there will be gender parity for athletes at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, only 13% of participating coaches will be women.

Annamarie Phelps, at the FISU Gender Equality Webinar. FISU
Annamarie Phelps, at the FISU Gender Equality Webinar. FISU

-Resources: equal access to resources (financial and otherwise) is important, including aspects such as ensuring that prime time at sports facilities is available to all. 

-Representation: ensuring that women's sport is more visible to the general public. 

-Safe sport: increasing understanding of the existence of hazing and sexual harassment in sport and the need to ensure mental health support. 

Phelps concluded by talking about some of the health barriers in women's sport. She highlighted the need to commission research focused specifically on these topics, as only 6% of sports medicine research in 2022 is conducted on women and girls.   

To highlight the challenges of limited research, she cited the recent FIFA Women's World Cup, where 30 players were ruled out with ACL injuries, in part due to a lack of research into the needs of women and their football boots.