We are all pioneers

This week marks 100 years since women first won the right to vote in Britain. Chelsea Ladies' Anita Asante has written a blog to share her story, and believes there is still a way to go as we strive for equality...

 

I first learned about the suffragettes when I was studying at high school in London.

I was a 15-year-old girl playing youth football for England, so it was wild to think how recently women didn’t have the opportunity to vote in this country – never mind to play organised sport.

I realised how far behind we had been – and still were – in terms of gender equality.

Only 100 years ago this week, the suffrage campaigners – including Chelsea residents Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst – did not just manage to change the voting law but much more.

Those heroines changed our perceptions of what was possible for women in a very difficult social climate.

The grave of Emmeline Pankhurst in Brompton Cemetery, in the shadow of Stamford Bridge

I believe the role they played is a great sign for what our generation can achieve today, as we strive for equality in politics and on the football pitch, for boardroom members and backroom staff.

Finding out more about the suffragettes, as well as female civil rights activists in America, provoked my interest in how people work together and led me to take a master’s degree in sport and politics.

A lot of what you learn as an athlete is important in politics as well as sport: both are about scoring goals.

You learn about sharing ideas and finding solutions to reach your target. You learn about the right way to behave and which battles to take on. You learn how to communicate. There are decisions you make that your team-mates don’t always like. Above all, you learn how to react to failure.

One of my role models, the poet Maya Angelou, said that if you don’t like something, you should change it. And if you can’t change something, you should change your attitude.

You don’t need anyone else to create a movement or to change perceptions. It only takes one person to be a pioneer. As an ambassador for Amnesty International and now Plan International, through their association with Chelsea, I have seen how many different ways of making a difference exist today.

I thought about trying a political career. In the end, I felt football would give me a platform to speak on certain social issues in an arena where people are not always engaged in old-fashioned politics.

The gap between women and men in football is obvious. I grew up playing with boys in my local neighbourhood. I played with a boys team when I was 12 and 13 years old and then I had to play with men who were several years older than me. That’s why, for me, just being here – playing professional football and achieving my goals – is my form of resistance.

Improvements have been made and continue to be made. The resources we have available at Chelsea can hardly be compared to when I was last here nine years ago. We have our own training ground and our own stadium. We have full-time medical staff, sports scientists and foreign internationals. Some people have left their own country to fulfil their ambitions with Chelsea.

We are not going away. We’re still striving to make the game more accessible to a wider audience. We’re proud of what we do and we want to show other girls that they can pursue their dreams.

It’s crucial that women who want to go into football see that there are lots of openings, not just as players. Now there are women commentators, referees, coaches, publicists and accountants.

These areas which women had typically seen as intimidating are now more visible than before. Now women know we can afford to be confident in whatever skills we have.

Of course, the same is true outside of football. If you don’t shoot, you don’t score.