The fact that football has a problem with women will not be news to anybody. What you might find surprising is that women were actually banned by the English FA from playing on any pitches under their control until 1972! 1972! (It was a similar story in Germany until 1970.) And whilst we might think that things have improved since, the ZDF advertising for the Women’s UEFA EUROs in 2013 certainly suggested otherwise. It featured a woman kicking a football into a washing machine, before sitting on it and waiting for it to spin. Oh dear, German television executives. Oh dear. Even just last weekend in Iran, women bravely defied a ban on watching sports in public spaces, gathering in cafes and restaurants to yell and scream at the television with the best of them. So although there is hope, there is a lot of work to be done, and DISCOVER FOOTBALL, based in Kreuzberg, is doing just that.

The origin of DISCOVER FOOTBALL can be traced back to a friendly match between a Berlin football club and the Iranian women´s national team in 2006. It was the first public women’s football match played in an Iranian stadium since the 1979 revolution. The enthusiasm of the players and spectators alike, as well as the intensity of the event, left a lasting impression on the German players and they decided to set up Fußball und Begegnung e.V., which now runs DISCOVER FOOTBALL as its main project. In 2009 they were awarded the Integration Prize by the Berlin Football Association and they have since been recognised by the UN special advisor on Sport for Development and Peace, Mr. Willi Lemke, the FIFA´s Steffi Jones and Theo Zwanziger as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The DISCOVER FOOTBALL team is currently out in Brazil running a conference, a girls' football Camp and exhibition with women, footballers and gender activists from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil to promote gender equality both on and off the field. According to Lea Gölnitz, who is one of them, “women´s football can be a mirror of society highlighting exactly the same women's rights issues we have in everyday life – gender pay gap, women's representation, discrimination, sexist portrayal of women in media and so on. Playing football as a women against all odds and obstacles is a very political act and is empowering in itself. Women's football is a great tool to make gender inequality and discrimination apparent, but also to use it as an empowerment strategy.”

Every two years during the UEFA Women´s EUROs and the FIFA Women's World Cup, DISCOVER FOOTBALL hosts a football festival with a tournament and workshops for teams from specific regions. In 2013, the focus was the MENA region, when women from the countries of the Arab Spring were able to share empowerment experiences in workshops and on the pitch. One of the results was the manual on strengthening women's football and empowerment Claiming the pitch: If you love football or already work in the field of female empowerment, use it to make sure that football benefits from the equal participation of women in the same way that other sports, like Tennis, have done for years. And keep your eye on the ball when it comes to DISCOVER FOOTBALL, they will definitely have a lot more to say in the coming years.

Originally published July 1, 2014