Mehwish is 17 years old from Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third largest city, and has been passionate about field hockey since she was young. In order to play field hockey, she says she had to face her brothers who did not want her to play sports and frequently tried to stop her from leaving home. “They wanted me to go to school for studies. But as the stubborn sister to stubborn brothers, I refused to go to school. I told them that I would continue my studies only if they allow me to play hockey,” Mehwish said.
“Initially, they allowed me to play only at school. But gradually, as they saw my confidence when playing, they stopped bothering me about it,” she added. Last week, she played side by side with fellow female Pakistani and American field hockey players on a field at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C.
Mehwish was one of ten teenage Pakistani field hockey players in the United States for a State Department sponsored sports exchange. While in America, the female athletes not only improved their field hockey skills, but they also learned how to harness the lessons of Title IX — the landmark U.S. law, which afforded opportunity and equality for American women in sports and education — back home in their communities.
The Title IX law is a mere 37 words, but over the last 41 years, those 37 words have made an incredible impact on the lives of young women around the United States. At the State Department we believe that this piece of legislation illustrates why playing sports should be a right for women and girls — empowering them with the benefits of participation, of opportunity and equality, around the world.
By applying the lessons of Title IX globally, we aim to increase the number of women and girls who participate in all aspects of sports locally. The reasons are simple. Sports instill the confidence, leadership, and teamwork that women around the world need to excel on the field, but it also can help them achieve more in life. Because when women and girls step onto the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and into society. A 2010 study by Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, found that sports increased both college attendance and overall earning potential.
We cannot forge progress around the world if we leave half of the population behind. Including women in the classroom, in enterprise, and in society is important to our efforts to create stronger, more inclusive communities.
At the State Department, we are working for the day where girls and women playing sports will no longer be controversial. A time when girls and boys from Quetta to Mogadishu to São Paulo will play sports in equal numbers -- where sports can be a gateway to success on and off the playing field.