Women In Soccer Social Barriers, Central America
Sources published in the past 24 months reveal that the social attitudes and barriers preventing or discouraging women in Central America from playing soccer revolve around gender discrimination, violence, and lack of support. There is evidence of gender discrimination and lack of support in Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, and of violence in Nicaragua.
Compared to men's soccer, women's soccer in Panama receives far less attention and support from the public and the media. The same can be said with Nicaragua as well, where girls playing soccer have been frowned upon or viewed with disapproval. For most men in the country, soccer was not a sport women should dabble in. Though this social perception is starting to change, women's soccer in the country still has a long way to go before it becomes fully accepted by the country's society. There is a prevailing culture of machismo, which imposes social norms and influences girls' beliefs before they even reach adolescence. Almost 30% of girls become pregnant before they turn 18, and around 50% of girls do not advance to secondary school.
In the more conservative villages of Guatemala, the Mayan villages in the country's interior, for example, soccer is often considered a sport for men. Playing soccer is a daring act if done by women. Women, especially indigenous women, have long suffered discrimination. Even successful women soccer players face discrimination. Shirley Cruz, Costa Rica's first female professional soccer player and Central America's most successful professional soccer player, used to sport short hair so she would be allowed to play with men's teams. There was a shortage of women's clubs in Costa Rica back then. There appears to be grave inequality as well when it comes to wages. In Panama, while men soccer players receive vast amounts of money, the most competent women soccer players cannot even earn a living wage.
Violence is impeding the progress of women's soccer in Nicaragua. It is political in nature, yet it has become a huge stumbling block for women in the country who want to play soccer. The protests, which began in April 2018 in response to social security cuts made by the Ortega government, have become violent, with the government responding to protests with brute force. Over 2,000 people have been arrested and over 300 people have been killed since. It is no longer safe for people, especially young girls or women, to go outside and travel even to nearby places. No one can guarantee their safety.
One concrete example of how the political violence in the country has limited women's participation in soccer is Soccer Without Borders's cancellation of some of its sessions. For safety reasons, Soccer Without Borders, a program in Nicaragua involving 170 girls and reaching a total of around 1,500 girls and women through special events, tournaments, and camps, was forced to cancel a number of sessions. It was prompted as well to stop hosting American players for cultural exchange and immersion. The drop in tourism was a blow to the program's budget, as the revenue the program raises through hosting constitutes 35% of the program's budget.
Another concrete example is CONCACAF's cancellation of the Women's Under-17 Championship in host country Nicaragua. CONCACAF, or the Confederation of North, Central American, and Carribean Association Football, made this decision in response to the political violence in the country. In a press release, it said, "CONCACAF determined that to guarantee the safety of the delegations, and all participants and fans, the cancellation will apply to all matches and events and take immediate effect."
LACK OF SUPPORT
According to an article published by Panama Today, the progress of women's soccer in Panama has been particularly slow, as support for women's soccer in the country is nearly non-existent. A professional structure is lacking, the payment structure is unclear, and there is hardly a proper league for the sport. Mainstream media does not pay much attention to the sport. Women's soccer in the country was recently described as having "existed in a state of general neglect." Lacking the support it needed, the country's national team had not figured in any CONCACAF Women's Championship between 2006 and late 2018. The team's current players are basically amateurs because they have no experience playing outside Panama. The Panamanian mainstream media and federation have long ignored the national team.
The lack of support and funding results in a vicious cycle where lesser-funded teams do not perform well and teams that do not show progress get ignored further by the federation. For women soccer players in Panama, there is little chance of becoming a full-time player unless the federation changes its stance on women's soccer and provides more support. They need to make their way to the United States if they want more opportunities to progress in the sport. This appears to be true for breakout star Yenith Bailey, Panama's goalkeeper, who is reportedly considering leaving her country to be able to train more. Speaking only Spanish may be a barrier, however.