Last night’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Final was nothing short of remarkable. From beginning to end, Team USA brought unprecedented athleticism, including the first hat-trick in Women’s World Cup history from midfielder Carli Lloyd and the continuation of Hope Solo’s 540 minute shut-out through the first half of the match’s first period.
This year’s WWC was one of the most politically charged women’s sporting events in recent history, calling attention to disparities in the treatment of women athletes in every capacity from facilities to pay grade.
However, according to a recent analysis by Public Radio International, inequality goes beyond disturbance in the international league, affecting the success of each cup team. And despite their significant victory Sunday night, Team USA falls disproportionately behind its competitive peers when it comes to gender equality.
PRI’s analysis contrasts recent FIFA points and rankings of the top 23 women’s teams (excluding Nigeria, as relevant data isn’t available) with the U.N. Development Programme’s 2013 Gender Inequality Index, which evaluates nations based on women’s reproductive health, female empowerment such as government involvement and education, and the economic status and involvement of women. Evaluated nations are then allocated a percentage rating. The higher the percentage, the greater the inequality.
The theory is compelling, with relatively successful teams such as Sweden, Germany, and France clustered in the upper right corner of both soccer and equality success. Even Japan, who the U.S. faced in the WWC Finals last night, clusters in the upper two levels.
However, the U.S. appears as a strange outlier, somewhat separate from its fellow prosperous western nations and WWC front runners. The U.S. received a GII rating of just 26.2 percent in 2013, which is within the 30 lowest inequality percentages. The U.S. ranks below fellow semi-final teams Japan, England, and Germany, based on the qualifications represented in the GII evaluation, and arguably has significant steps to take to increase gender equality within the country.
The U.S has taken some strides over the last few decades to increase nation-wide participation in women’s sports. Most notably is Title IX, which has paved the way for greater involvement of women in sports, and sporting programs that feed into the future of professional leagues.
Title IX is intended to protect against gender discrimination in federally funded education — including school athletic programs. Title IX has contributed to an almost 20 percent increase in women’s participation in high school sports since its 1972 inception, and has also contributed to an increased number of women’s athletic college scholarships and the salary of female coaches in comparison to the pre-Title IX era, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation.
“Title IX has increased opportunities for women to participate in sports and has increased awareness that women can be just as capable as men in sports,” said Sue Klein, who works as the Education Equity Director at the Feminist Majority Foundation. According to Klein, female participation in sports has been connected with greater leadership abilities and confidence in a team setting.
However, the U.S. still lags behind competing nations’ equality efforts overall, particularly in categories regarding political involvement. It’s perhaps not too far of a stretch to connect this disparity with the lack of paid leave for women who choose to start families, or the lack of action to close the seemingly perpetual gender-based wage gap.
But despite these irregularities, public support for women’s soccer is growing in the United States. According to Bloomberg Business, approximately 15 percent of households tuned in to watch Team USA’s victory Sunday night — marking a 77 percent in watch rates from the last Women’s World Cup in which Japan took home the gold. Sunday night’s significant viewership, which was over double that of the most-watched men’s game last year, is largely credited to an increase in interest from young and female fans who followed this WWC more closely than ever before.
Katelyn Harrop is an intern with ThinkProgress.