Wednesday 20 September 2023, 08:00

Kylie Bates: “We need to build spaces that are safe and where everyone belongs”

  • Kylie Bates, Sports Specialist for UN Women Fiji Multi Country Office, believes that the FIFA Women’s World Cup has opened the door to cultural change in and through football

  • Bates espouses the importance of working in partnership - “No one organisation can do it by itself”

  • We need to take a whole-of-community, whole-of-government, whole-of-country approach to gender equality

Speaking at the second FIFA Women’s Football Conference in Sydney on 18 August, Kylie Bates has called upon organisations from different sectors to join together to harness the opportunity for both gender equal community football development and social change that the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ has created. With a record number of tickets sold for a tournament that also broke records in terms of television viewing figures, Bates, Sports Specialist with UN Women, has insisted that the atmosphere is ripe to capitalise on what this will mean for the global growth of women’s football.

Kylie Bates, WFC 2023

“The FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia (where Bates is based) has transcended sport,” said Bates. “It’s a moment of cultural change. There is research done prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup that tells us that two out of three people who are avid fans of women’s sport can recall a time when sport made them think differently about societal issues.

"One out of three Australians suggest that sport has allowed them to start conversations on social issues with their families that they wouldn't have had otherwise and the same proportion claim that these moments of sport transcending culture have caused them to reflect and change their own behaviour. It’s a time when we think more about what unites us than divides us.”

FIFA confederation Oceania Football and UN Women have worked in tandem to increase participation in women’s football in the Pacific Islands with the duo a natural fit according to Bates. “We know we can only go so far with activities,” she said. “We know we need to take a whole-of-community, whole-of-government, whole-of-country approach to gender equality. We know that we need to create better access for individuals to football. We need to build better relationships between men and women in football. "We need to build spaces that are safe and where everyone belongs. We need to engage the community in football and we need to create supportive policy for football. What that means is that we need to work in partnerships; that’s a lot for one organisation to do. No one organisation can do it by itself.”

In the Pacific Islands, UN Women, through the Pacific Partnership is investing in projects targeted at changing social norms to promote gender equality and ending violence against women and girls. Working together with the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), they are ensuring more women can access football and more women can benefit from playing football. This approach is line with the recommendations in OFC’s Gender Equality Playbook. “In the Pacific, both UN Women and the OFC care about creating safe spaces and both care about making sure that sport prospers, so it can change social norms and values and behaviours in society. In that way, we have a different role to play in the partnership. We do different things, but they support each other’s ambitions.”

Matildas fans celebrate at the FIFA Fan Festival

The FIFA Women's Football Convention took place in Sydney between 18-19 August. You can now find all keynote speeches and panel discussions available here.