Football can empower women, promote gender equality and challenge stereotypes – the view put forward by UEFA's head of women's football Nadine Kessler at a European Parliament conference in Brussels.
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How women can be empowered through sport was the main theme of a European Parliament conference in Brussels this week – and the head of women's football at UEFA, Nadine Kessler, was present to explain UEFA's visions and commitment to maintaining the impressive momentum being generated by the women's game.
The conference was organised by the European Parliament Sport intergroup, which brings together MEPs from different political groups to discuss topics related to sport, including football.
MEPs were joined at the event, which featured presentations and panel discussions, by sports representatives from various European political institutions, international sports federations and other stakeholders.
The conference continued the long-standing positive dialogue between UEFA and the European institutions. In February, UEFA signed a renewed formal cooperation agreement with the European Commission. UEFA also holds regular talks with the European Parliament's Friends of Football group of MEPs.
UEFA and its President Aleksander Čeferin have made the development and progress of women's football a main priority.
In addition to the UEFA Women's Football Development Programme, which sees the European body working hand in hand with its 55 member national associations to nurture the women's game, campaigns such as Together #WePlayStrong aim to increase participation among girls and change perceptions of women's football.
UEFA also welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the debate on gender equality in sport, which is an important feature of "good governance" – a central element of UEFA's strategy for the future.
Kessler, 2014 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year and UEFA Best Women's Player in Europe, told the conference that sport was essential for people's physical and mental well-being.
"It helps to grow our confidence, improve our self-esteem, and helps us to overcome difficulties in life," she said. "In total, it just fulfils us."
"In my case," she added, "football helped me to become the woman I am today. It enabled me to develop an inner strength, and with that, a determination that would help me overcome any setbacks that life would throw at me.
"I am convinced that, without football, I wouldn't have learned so much about different cultures and explored different places in the world. I also wouldn't have learned how important it is, especially nowadays, to stick to certain principles and live your values.
"It teaches you vital life rules how to do deal with other people."
Kessler spoke of the huge power of sport and football in particular, and the role that it has beyond the game.
"Therefore it is entirely important," she said, "that women are getting involved with football, and have the access to experience this amazing sport.
"Increased sports participation empowers women," Kessler continued. "It promotes health and wellness, improves self-esteem, and teaches leadership, team skills and perseverance.
"We know this through our own research on how team sports increase girls' confidence – this is the main angle of our Together#WePlayStrong campaign."
Kessler emphasised that women's football can be used as a tool for gender equality and empowerment, anti-discrimination activities and challenging stereotypes.
"At UEFA," she explained, "we are looking initially at how we can provide opportunities and access for participation that are specific to girls' needs, build our structures to create role models and leaders in all areas, and use our competitions to educate and spread messages."
UEFA is currently involved in an exciting period for women's football, Kessler went on. "We want to celebrate and promote women's football for what it is," she reflected, "namely, as an important member of the football family.
"We want to drive participation, set targets for growth, open pathways and opportunities for women and girls in all areas, and stage competitions that inspire – creating platforms on which women can shine."
UEFA, Kessler stressed, is also committed to helping bring more women into key positions and decision-making roles within the European game.
"There are 443 million women in Europe," she concluded. "And we need women's football to be available and accessible to all those women and girls who want to be part of our sport."