When Title IX was enacted, I was just six years old and had no idea how this one piece of legislation ensuring equal rights for women in sport and education would impact me and millions of girls over the next four decades.
Having equal access to participate in athletics did far more than just pay my way through college on a field hockey/lacrosse scholarship. More importantly, sports taught me and millions of girls critical life skills such as leadership, teamwork and perseverance. Sports empowered my generation to believe we could do anything if we just worked hard enough. No longer were we limited to playing only half court basketball, the barrier that my grandmother had faced because girls were still viewed as the weaker sex.
Because of Title IX and Billy Jean King’s iconic victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973, my generation was raised to believe we were just as strong as men and deserved the same rights to the playing field. When our team was given access to the turf only at 5 a.m. so that the boy’s football team could practice during prime hours, our coaches began to push back.
Eventually we were taught to demand the same opportunities and equal access as men, and this is reflected today in our drive to compete with men in the workforce, seeking to rise to the highest levels in the workforce.
Has the empowerment that came with Title IX been an easy road for women?
No, there is still debate as to whether women and girls can really “have it all” and achieve full equality. Clearly, there is still work to be done. But as I travel around the world, I see the impact when women and girls are not provided equal rights. When a country leaves 50 percent of its population behind – whether it’s denying access to education, sports or healthcare – development suffers.
At USAID, we aim to ensure women are more often seated at the decision-making table to realize their rights and to influence outcomes at all levels. The evidence is clear: investment in women and girls delivers a disproportionate dividend in a country’s development.
As many have said during this 40th anniversary, Title IX was more about social change than sports. But sports taught us the importance of competing and never taking ourselves out of the game. Sports also taught us that while we may be able to go faster alone, teamwork is the key to winning.
As we celebrate all that has been accomplished these past 40 years, I am reminded of the words of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field: “Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.”