With FIFA and the AFC back on home turf after their recent visit to Australia to discuss the governance of the game with stakeholders, and with Female Football Week and International Women’s Day upon us, we take a look at Women Onside.
Women Onside (WO) is a taskforce of women with decades of experience across all areas of football. The group is dedicated to assisting FIFA and the FFA with finding ways to improve the representation of women in leadership positions across all areas of football in Australia.
“We’re a group of women who have experienced football at every level between us, among all roles in the game - playing, coaching, officiating, administrating on boards and in offices, parenting, commentating, reporting, paid and volunteer,” said Nicki Bowman, one of the members.
“We fully support the stated aims of the FIFA and AFC statutes with regard to gender equality in football leadership and participation. We’re willing to help solve the problem that FFA and FIFA have in front of them with regard to gender equality.” Bowman said.
Nicki Bowman is a board member of Football South Coast with extensive experience on corporate and community boards, Catherine Ordway, a sports lawyer and academic with international experience in integrity and governance, and Jeanette Jones, representing Football NSW and Women Onside, met with the FIFA and AFC party who were in Australia recently to consult stakeholders on the make up of a Congress Review Working Group.
Bowman and Ordway pointed out that the representation of women in our Congress currently stands at zero. They also reflected that at all levels of football leadership in Australia, women are massively under-represented.
They expressed concern that models that have been suggested for the Congress Review Working Group and the Congress itself call for a single female representative, and pointed out that it is not possible nor feasible to expect one woman to speak for all elements of women’s football, in the same way as no-one expects one man to speak for all elements of men’s football.
"Women Onside is not seeking a seat at the congress, we're here to advocate for more women represented and the women's game represented, neither of those are happening today" - @catherineordway, @WomenOnside #WomenInSport #WomenInFootball #WomenOnBoards https://t.co/QdIS3twnKV— Women Onside (@WomenOnside) February 21, 2018
They pointed out the suggestion that A-League licencees should be represented, with no representation for specific W-League representatives would be emblematic of the issues faced, whereby major stakeholders continue to submit models that marginalize women in this way – either deliberately, or oblivious to the embedded sexism of their proposals.
The Women Onside representatives urged the panel to demonstrate a commitment to gender equality by ensuring that the Working Group itself be both gender-balanced and suitably representative of the women’s game.
Ordway suggested to FIFA that one way to ensure a gender-balanced Working Group is to request that each of the representative groups be required ensure that their participating delegation include a minimum of 50% women (for example if the Member Associations collectively send 4 delegates, then this means at least 2 are women; if the League licensees ([the group making up delegates from both the A League and the W League clubs] are permitted to send a delegation of 4 representatives, then at least 2 should be women, and so on).
#WomenOnside is a network of former WNT players, leaders, administrators & experts in #woso. Aim is to ⬆ no. of women in leadership at all levels + 50:50 repn in Congress. eg @dolanj4 @catherineordway @groubes @DanielleWarby @Reidyfour Bowman, Iserief ...— Heather Reid AM (@Reidyfour) February 21, 2018
.@WomenOnside seeks female repn at every level of decision making (currently next to zero); specifically reminding stakeholders of #FIFA statutes that state need for representative democracy and importance of 'regard for gender equity'. #FFACongress— Heather Reid AM (@Reidyfour) February 21, 2018
In this way, FIFA will have a critical mass of women’s voices at the table. The rationale is that constituting the Working Group with a 50-50 gender balance would not only send a clear message of intent, that is to include the other 50% of the Australian population, but also ensure that a broad range of female voices are heard on all matters under review, which includes the women’s game.
Women Onside also proposed that as part of its scope, the Working Group must examine the structural, cultural and other barriers which currently operate to preclude women from these leadership roles and make recommendations as to how they should be overcome.
It was widely reported that this second round of consultation with stakeholders to establish the terms of reference for a Congress Review Working Group, included more than the official bodies of the member federations and A-League clubs. It drew in groups and individuals representing coaches, professional clubs, referees, and ‘women’s football’, although Women Onside is quick to point out it is a group advocating for gender inclusion and equality in all facets of the game.
“We got together in the middle of 2017 after it was clear that the FFA’s first attempt at putting forward a new governance structure didn’t meet FIFA’s statutes.
"There were literally dozens of us across Australia all messaging Moya Dodd who was on the FFA Board and had been heavily involved in the FIFA reforms in gender equality, to ask how we could help develop a solution for the game in Australia.
"She simply said “Why don’t you all talk to each other?” said Sarah Groube, a former administrator and player, and now journalist and commentator.
“I think each of us knew a few of the group, but after our first teleconference, we realised the challenges we had each faced alone over the years were exactly the same as everyone else. It was clear that a network could help the FFA and FIFA easily access expertise from women across the game,” she said.
Nicki Bowman (lawyer and football leader)
Julie Dolan (legendary player, leader and football director)
Sarah Groube (former football administrator, player, commentator )
Renaye Iserief (former WNT player, administrator)
Jeanette Jones (Football NSW board member)
Catherine Ordway (lawyer, ethics and governance expert)
Heather Reid (women’s football pioneer, leader and football director)
Kim Schaefer (former WNT player, GK coach)
Danielle Warby (women’s sport advocate, social player)