Mighty and fearless

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As part of our International Day of the Girl Campaign, we’ve invited many amazing women to share their experiences of girlhood with guest blogs. Positive role modelling is an important part of building and maintaining girls’ confidence in themselves.

You can take part in the campaign by taking a minute to share advice for girls today on our virtual wall.

But first, meet today’s guest blogger, Dawn Austwick, former CEO of the National Lottery Community Fund and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

A few Sundays back, like millions of other folks across the country, I watched the World Cup Final. I was with extended family – across generations and genders, with children and grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.

We gathered with cakes and olives and crisps, and coffee, and fizz, and squash. There was something for everyone. And how proud we all were of our England team!

Yes, we lost, and we were sad. But my goodness, what a wonderful group of young women, representing their country with grace, talent, and exuberance. Walking a set of values which we can all be proud of.

And we should be proud too that England are led by a woman manager, the sublime Sarina Wiegman. Shockingly, we were the only country with a female manager at the quarter final stage of the tournament.

Momentarily, that Sunday morning, I was transported back fifty years, half a century ago, to my ten-year-old self, out playing football on our street.

It was 1970 and another World Cup had just finished – the Men’s this time. England didn’t win – we were knocked out by Germany in the quarter finals. On our street, the kids regularly played football. Or at least the boys did, and sometimes we girls plucked up the courage to join in. 

That day, I had fire in my belly.

I imagined myself as England captain Bobby Moore. I had no women’s team to inspire me then. I raced down the street, dribbling the ball, leaving all the boys (and girls) behind me.

It was my finest sporting hour – there haven’t been many! I’m not sporty, although I was called a tomboy as a child because I liked climbing trees and going on adventures, alongside the occasional foray into football. I also liked horse riding and dancing.

Fifty years later, I reflect that these activities are not male or female, they are human. It’s the straitjacket of society that chose (and still chooses) to describe girls as tomboys and assigns roles to genders.

But how brilliant that girls and young women now have their own role models – and role models for all of us – Mary Earps, Lucy Bronze, Lauren James, all the England team, and of course those wonderful Spaniards who beat us.

As a female Gooner (Arsenal supporter), who needs Saka or Odegaard when we have Mead, Russo and Williamson to look up to! As an Arsenal supporter, I’ve watched with pride as the club has embraced the Women’s team and led the way over the last couple of seasons in building an audience for Women’s Football.

From growing attendance of a few thousand to over forty and fifty thousand for matches at the Emirates last season. And what a glorious, celebratory atmosphere it is to be a part of. How ironic that in 1921 the FA banned women’s football when (because?) it was attracting crowds of 50,000.

It’s not just on the pitch that the players are role models.

I’ve listened to England’s injured captain Leah Williamson inspire with her wisdom and compassion in interviews, I’ve given Beth Mead’s book to my son to add to his sports biography collection, and I’ve cheered and chanted the team on, just as I have done our men’s team.

But with extra joy in my heart to be a part of this women’s footballing journey. And it’s every girl’s right to feel joy in her heart whether through sport or music or any other activity.

The stats tell us we have a long way to go before we can hand on heart say all girls have that chance – just look at the new Girl Guiding survey or GFS focus group articles.

Through my involvement with the London Marathon Foundation, I’ve seen the work of organisations like Access Sport and Sported, opening opportunities for girls who don’t have the sort of access I did – for fun, for escape, for friendship, for a future.

To be involved, to be included.

I watch my granddaughter pedalling further and faster on her tricycle, climbing ever higher on the climbing wall, swimming across the pool on her own.

Mighty and fearless at two and three quarters. And I hope that she remains so, defining the world on her terms, helping to shape a society where we are all able to be our true selves.

Mighty and fearless, because we are.

Thank you to Dawn for sharing your story of girlhood. We hope all women reading this will join in by sharing their stories and advice on our virtual wall

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