Wednesday 02 August 2023, 06:00

Panama players and coach Unite for Gender Equality

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and is critical for a peaceful and sustainable world. FIFA and UN Women are partnering to emphasise the importance of gender equality, raising awareness on the biggest global stage in women’s sport. In the run-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™, we spoke to Panama coach Ignacio Quintana, captain Natalia Mills and defender Hilary Jaén and about the battle for gender equality.

Ignacio Quintana

Mexico-born Ignacio Quintana had previously impressed as Nicaragua’s women’s assistant coach before Panama appointed him for his first solo coaching role in December 2020. His sense of conviction played an essential role in gaining the trust of his players and he devised a comprehensive, countrywide development plan for women’s football.

Ignacio Quintana, coach of Panama

"Football is one of the best tools and means of education you can have in life. We want to take advantage of this to promote (gender equality) in many other areas. We’ve always said in Panama, female football is not only the players, but also the coach, the doctors, the physiotherapists, the media, it’s all the women involved," he said. Before signing his contract, he made it clear that he wanted equal pay between the men's and women's national teams in Panama. "In the first discussion I had with the federation….we spoke about this. We agreed with the idea, that it was something we had to promote,” he said. "There has to be a balance, not just that you pay equal amounts to the female players but also that you expect the same from them. Because they also have their rights and their obligations. We try to find a balance where they understand that they’ll be fairly paid…. and we will also expect what is fair from them. It helped for me as well, from the management point of view, to raise those expectations.”

Natalia Mills

Natalia Mills first pulled on a Panama shirt when she was selected for the U-17 team. She also represented Las Canaleras at U-20 level before going on to captain the senior team and lead them to the FIFA Women's World Cup™ for the first time.

Natalia Mills of Panama - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 portrait

"For me, gender equality transcends borders. Nowadays, I don’t think it’s about pink for women and blue for boys. I don’t think it’s about the clothes you choose to wear or your sexual orientation, which everyone should respect," she said. "Beyond colour, cultures and history, it’s simply about respecting each other as people and what they’ve been doing for a number of years, whether they’re sportspeople, engineers or journalists. I think we should respect people for who they are." Over the years, she has seen a change in attitudes towards the Panama women's team change. "I’ve been playing for the national team since I was 17, at different levels. It’s never too late. Now, things such as pay are becoming more equal." "Above all, it’s about the way we’re treated as professionals, which is what we are. In preparing for this tournament, with the different tours we’ve been on, we recognise the work the Federation is doing.

Hilary Jaen of Panama poses for a FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 portrait

Hilary Jaén

Although only 20, Hilary already has plenty of international experience, having played for Panama at the 2018 Concacaf Women's Championship as a sixteen-year-old. After starting her career with Tauro FC, she now plays for Jonas College Bobcats in the USA. “I think if you want to do well in football, you need access to a lot of resources, like the USA have. I think there are some countries doing really well but others who still need more. I think that's what we're after in women’s football – development, for each and every player," she said. "There’s been a lot of prejudice and many doors were closed on girls at a young age who were denied the chance to really experience football. Above all, we’re looking to develop the game so that girls have the choice to play the game if they want."