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Twenty Years of the Women's Soccer World Cup and Empowering Women and Girls

Hillary Clinton's State Department Office (D) posted a Blog Post on July 15, 2011 | 5:51 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

In 1991, I was a sophomore at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Big hair was in, Silence of the Lambs won the Oscar for best picture, and Germany was newly reunited. That fall, I also met my future husband and the United States won the first-ever Women's World Cup (WWC), which was held in China. Fast forward to 2011. Twenty years changes a lot -- pixie cuts are cool, True Grit is this year's movie, and a quarter of Germans have no memories of a divided country.

I am now a Foreign Service Officer posted to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, sitting in a stadium in Germany with my husband and our two excited kids, watching a new group of U.S. women take on the world. However much things have changed, however, some stayed the same. The United States remains a women's soccer power house and an inspiration to young athletes around the world. This year's refusal to concede the quarterfinal game to Brazil indicates that the new team is more than ready to take up where previous ones left off.

Sports have played a powerful role in the United States in empowering girls and women and in bringing people from difference ethnicities and backgrounds into contact with each other. Multiple studies show that increasing girls' sports participation has a direct effect on women's education, employment and overall self-confidence. Following the Landmark passage of the 1972 Education Amendments to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, commonly known as "Title IX," more girls began to play sports in the United States. And soccer has proven to be one of the most popular sports with American girls. Current estimates say that more than forty percent of soccer players in the United States are female.

The same is not true in Germany. Soccer remains a male-dominated sport here, and fewer than 15 percent of the members of the German Soccer Association are female. But numerous people are working to change that and to increase opportunities for girls to play. First in line has been Germany's national women's soccer team. Although they lost in the quarter finals this year, Germany won the last two World Cup titles (2003 and 2007), and generated tremendous interest in the sport. In the years immediately following the first German win, more than half of the new members of the German Soccer Association (DFB) were female. Like Mia Hamm in the United States, German striker Brigit Prinz has inspired thousands of girls to lace up their cleats and join a team and the success of Lira Bajramaj has helped encourage girls from minority communities.

The U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany has been out in force as well, using the World Cup as an opportunity to talk about the power of sport. Led by women's soccer enthusiast Ambassador Murphy, Mission Germany has conducted soccer clinics, hosted viewing parties, and put on soccer road shows throughout the country. The goal has been to involve as many girls as possible in this year's cup as well as help them realize the long-term benefits of soccer. Before the tournament, Sports United Sports Envoys and former national players Briana Scurry and Amanda Cromwell worked with hundreds of girls in Dresden, Berlin, Wolfsburg, Sinsheim, and Frankfurt, leaving stronger players and star-struck fans in their wake. Since then, it's been left to us amateurs, and we spend more time talking to the press and young soccer players than kicking balls around.

We've been helped in our efforts by two presidential delegations. Presidential Advisor Nancy DeParle headed a delegation to the match against Colombia that also included Kristine Lilley, the most capped player of any gender and any nationality in the world. We're now expecting Dr. Jill Biden and Chelsea Clinton for the final match against Japan. What has really helped us, however, is the US women's team. What a phenomenal bunch of players! They are our heroes and will be role models for girls from around the world for a long time to come.

Related Content: Photos from the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup
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