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Leah Williamson Takes the Pitch at UN Summit: Championing Equality in Global Football for Girls

The Arsenal and Lioness defender being forced off the pitch in April led her to be the first England women’s national team player to take the stage in front of the United Nations.

Leah Williamson attended the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals Summit in New York this past Tuesday, pleading to challenge gender stereotypes and level the playing field for girls in football across the globe. 

After visiting the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan this past August, Williamson brings the stories of girls who have lived through the camp and not been given equal opportunities to the stage in front of world leaders. 

“Sport has the power to change lives – but it’s still not a level playing field for so many girls around the world,” said the women’s football star.

Her season-ending ACL injury in the 12th minute against Manchester United ruled her out of the World Cup as she joined her fellow Arsenal and England teammate, Beth Mead, on the injury list.

While the unfortunate news broke fans, Williamson didn’t let herself sit in her sorrows. She began planning her recovery immediately, organizing her trip to Jordan around it. 

Joining Save the Children and The Arsenal Foundation, Williamson spent time at the refugee camp talking to young girls and learning how much football has impacted their lives. With 80,000 people, the camp has become a symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Because of the Coaching for Life program, Williamson sat down with Rahaf, a 16-year-old girl whose family has been in the camp for a decade, running from the war. 

Coaching for Life harnesses the influence of football to foster a feeling of inclusion and enhance the overall physical, mental, and emotional health of youngsters and their families impacted by the Syrian conflict.

According to Arsenal.com, Rahaf said, “It strengthened my personality much more than before, as now I can speak in front of more people. I was so shy before. I can make decisions myself – I am strong enough to make them.”

Five years ago, girls in the camp were not allowed to play football as it was seen as a “boy” sport to many and was the standard in Syria. No one knew differently.

After building the girls’ side from the ground up, the refugee camp’s football program is now split 50/50 between boys and girls, showing that investing in women’s sports, even at a young age, will pay off.

Even though fathers at the camp first hesitated to allow their daughters to participate in the program, they finally agreed, allowing girls to feel empowered and confront gender stereotypes in their society.

Williamson mentions how, when it comes to football, women confront a variety of hurdles throughout the world. Opportunities exist for them in nations such as England and America, but societal barriers prevent girls from playing football in certain countries, emphasizing the need for reform. 

As women and girls continue to fight for equality in sports and all aspects, changes must be made on all levels of competition. Williamson inspires many and plans to balance her advocacy work as she makes a comeback on the pitch soon.

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