Leah Williamson will make history by becoming the first English women’s footballer to address the United Nations at the Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) Summit in New York.
The 26-year-old, who captained England to European Championship glory last summer but missed out on the recent Women’s World Cup because of injury, recently visited Za’atari in Jordan, which is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world.
She will now address world leaders with the message, ‘Don’t leave girls behind’, in a bid to challenge gender stereotypes, having seen first-hand what football has done for girls and entire communities through the work of The Arsenal Foundation and Save the Children.
Williamson said of her recent visit and ahead of her speech: “Sport has the power to change lives – but it’s still not a level playing field for so many girls around the world. Football definitely changed my life. After visiting the Za’atari refugee camp, I’ve seen first-hand how our football programme, Coaching for Life, is helping the girls in the camp cope better with the challenges they face,” speaking on her trip.
“Almost all women footballers will have a story about the challenges they faced taking up the game, but at least in countries like England and America we had a chance.
“In some countries, girls have social restrictions that limit their access to playing football, and that has to change. Through The Arsenal Foundation’s work with Save the Children, we’ve shown in Za’atari how we can empower girls through sport and how boys can play an active role with us on that journey.”
In 2018, The Arsenal Foundation and Save the Children combined their expertise to launch Coaching for Life – a programme that uses the power of football to build a sense of belonging and improve the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children and their families affected by the Syrian war.
When Coaching for Life started, just a handful of girls took part – but now, on its fifth anniversary, it has made the significant breakthrough of having an equal number of girls and boys graduating from the programme.
“At first, fathers in the camp were reluctant for their daughters to get involved – but then relented,” Williamson continued: “They saw how their daughters became empowered. We are now moving towards a gender-transformative approach in the camp – and this is key all around the world as well – to address deep-rooted stereotypes.
“We need to involve men and boys in the conversation about positive masculinity and the barriers women and girls face.”
A winner of six major trophies at Arsenal, Williamson will appear at a one-on-one talk with girl’s education activist, Vee Kativhu, at the UN SGD Summit on Tuesday, 19 September.