On International Women's Day we reproduce an article written by our regular contributor, Louise Court, from Monday's matchday programme for the match against Manchester United.
International Women’s Day is when the continued fight for equal rights around the world will be hot topics of conversation across social media, press, radio and TV.
Last year at a special event to mark the day, I met and interviewed an incredible female footballer, Khalida Popal (pictured). She was the first ever captain of the national Afghan women’s football team. In case you wonder what is so special about that, Afghanistan is the country recently described as the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl.
She used to have to play in secret and then became used to having vile abuse and rubbish thrown at her as she made her way to training wearing her kit. Eventually, as she became an outspoken supporter of the women’s game and women’s rights, she suffered such terrifying rape and death threats she had to flee for her life and doesn’t know when or if she can ever go back.
I have been lucky enough to meet many amazing people in my career but to say Khalida left a lasting impression on me would be an understatement. Since leaving her homeland she has become even more vocal, addressing FIFA and the United Nations on the issue of gender equality and recently beat Manchester United’s Juan Mata to be awarded the Champion of the Year at the Peace and Sport Awards.
The women’s game is going from strength to strength globally and in the UK. The Lionesses, England’s women’s team, achieved record viewing figures during their successful run in last year’s Euros. The sport is still playing catch-up after women were banned for over 50 years by the FA from playing on any of its pitches back in 1921 because the sport was “quite unsuitable for females and… not to be encouraged.”
Now the FA has aims for women’s football to be the second largest participation sport in the UK, second only to the men’s game, by the end of this year. FIFA has declared “the future is female” and entertainment giants Disney have started supporting girls’ football.
Getting more women involved in football from fans to players can only make clubs like ours stronger. I loved taking part in a recent video by This Fan Girl at Selhurst Park which captured a brilliant cross-section of Palace fans, as well as one of our players Gemma Bryan.
Palace Ladies has the full support of the club and have applied to the FA to become a semi-professional club in the new Women’s Championship from the 2018/19 season, the second highest tier in the sport. Our football team is not just the 11 men who take to the pitch in the Premier League, it is every team that turns out in red and blue. They all deserve our support.