As a 30-something American woman, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity and the right to play sports my entire life. From the age of four, I was encouraged to get out on the field, join the team, kick some ass and do my best to get better, excel and win. I can confidently say the skills and lessons I learned at an early age from playing competitive sports have made me into who I am today and serve as a daily driver of my confidence and positive outlook on life.
The proliferation of women’s sports in the US can be witnessed in just about every corner of our country, thanks to Title IX, the advancement of women’s rights and the cultural acceptance and support of woman’s sports over the last 40 years. Yet, in the majority of developing countries, this is hardly the case.
Traditional societal roles of women in conservative cultures of developing countries create significant barriers for participation of women in sports and unequivocally denies them the confidence, health benefits, community and conviction that are derived from playing sports.
Elizabeth Stanton, an accomplished journalist, Evanston native and current Chicago resident, recognized these barriers and chose to use art and media to explore, report and record the issues these women face by documenting their stories in the Through Her Eyes project through video and photography. By sharing their stories and highlighting the first-hand rewards these women experience from playing sports, Elizabeth hopes to drive awareness with health and development organizations to fund sports projects for women.
I had the chance to sit down with Elizabeth and ask her about her experiences in Ecuador documenting women athletes for the project, her recent exhibits here in the states and about her next destination.
MMV: What was your inspiration to begin working on Through Her Eyes project?
ES: I was working for a local newspaper in Costa Rica and noticed that there was extremely limited coverage on women’s sports. I began observing closer and realized the attention to women’s sports in the area was non-existent. As a high school and college athlete, my teams were constantly covered in the local newspapers, and I remember how empowering that feeling is when you see your team and your accomplishments heralded in the media. I finished up the job in Costa Rica and returned to Chicago where I was working for the Chicago bureau of the New York Times and started thinking more about the societal impact on women an environment like the one I just left created.
MMV: What made you chose Ecuador as your first stop to begin research for Through Her Eyes?
ES: I began researching the concept and noticed there was very little research done previously on women playing sports in developing countries in South America. The Ecuadorian Olympic Committee was one of the only South American countries that had developed a Women in Sports Commission, so I knew they would be more open to the concept. Also, I speak fluent Spanish and wanted to be in an environment where I could interview women myself and dive head first into the culture and be accepted.
MMV: When you arrived, what type of specific barriers did you find?
ES: Many women spoke of the lack of support they received from family when it came to sports. This is where we see the typical societal norms come into play. Women told me they were told to stay home and help with the cooking and household chores and that school came first and that sports could come later. Honestly, you see this here in the US as well – the thought that sports will interfere and should be an after thought, when actually studies prove that women who participate in sport at a young age finish school, earn more money and have more advanced degrees and positions than their counterparts.
MMV: Have you seen the fruits of your labor with success in fundraising and awareness?
ES: Awareness, absolutely. Once I was finished, I took the exhibit to six different cities in Ecuador and the response was amazing. Athletes came with their families and friends to the exhibits where I was able to bring the stories back to the women that told them to me originally. That’s what it is all about. Shining a positive light on these women, recognizing them for their athletic ability in front of the community. Showing them as influencers in the community inspires other women to get active and allows communities to embrace and celebrate them as athletes.
As far as funding, that has been a bit more of a challenge. I continue to apply for grants to continue the project and after my recent exhibit in Chicago in June, I submitted two of my photos to the State Department’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport photo contest where I was just honored as one of the two grand prize winners (the headline photo above is the winning photo). I’m hoping this will advance me to working closer with the State Department and possibly espnW and their current partnership with the project and the State Department.
My goal is to get to another country soon and continue the reporting and the mission, but it is dependent on funding. The Middle East is on my radar as my next destination, but in the meantime, I am finalizing the paperwork to become a 501c3 non profit organization which will open the door to funding from organizations, agencies and individuals that want to support the project. I’m optimistic, but it’s tough. Sometimes you have to wave all the flags, start the fire and hope that people notice.
MMV: Roger that.