'Female Warriors' are battling for equality on the soccer fields of Brazil

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Marco Werman: Brazil, they say, is soccer. But put yourself in the cleats of Brazilian women and the connection is not so obvious. Brazilian girls and women were actually banned from playing soccer from 1941 to 1979, and after the ban was lifted, Brazilian girls were still discouraged from playing. Caitlin Fisher didn't have that problem, she grew up playing in the US. But 10 years ago, at the age of 22, Caitlin moved to Brazil and soon after began to play professionally there. She noticed, though, that even in the pros, women soccer players face a real uphill battle. So Caitlin is also behind a project to bring attention to gender equality on Brazilian soccer fields. Caitlin Fisher: I knew going down to Brazil that this was the nation of football. I also knew that there's a lot of machismo around football in Latin America and that the women's game has not been as popular or successful as it has in the US and other countries. I was slightly aware of this going down but it was really a slap in the face experiencing it down there; playing it, living it, breathing it. Parents didn't want their daughters playing this sport. In many ways, it's seen as kind of a disgrace to the family, that this is a man's game. There are worries about women becoming too masculine and there's definitely an association in negative ways with homosexuality. This has led into the work we're doing today, this activism around football and gender. Werman: So tell me about the Guerreiras Project. What is that? Fisher: "Guerreiras," it's the Portuguese term for "female warrior." It's one of the first terms I learned in Brazil from my teammates, who use it and really self-identify as female warriors, as women playing football in the country of men's football, that you have to be a warrior, a fighter to be able to do this. We started just as stories, a lot about sharing experiences and hearing about the prejudices in the women's game from my perspective as a foreigner from the United States, hearing about the experiences from my teammates. Then from there, layering more voices and stories onto it and seeing how our stories could be used as tools for change really in terms of opening up conversations around gender prejudice. Werman: With the World Cup, you're actually going to be present in Brazil with a multimedia presentation and really exposing the eyes of the world who will be coming to Brazil to see what you are doing with Guerreiras. What are you going to show them? What will people see? Fisher: We have spent the past couple of months working on this project leading up to the Cup. The plan is to do this multimedia exhibition. We've really been creating a platform for female players across Brazil to be heard and to be seen. They've had the opportunity to contribute anything: jerseys, photos, videos, cleats, goalie gloves. Whatever it is that they want the world to see and hear about their experiences. Werman: Do you think you're going to be able to get any traction from the fans who are coming in from around the world. If they get out of Brazil with a Pele t-shirt, they're going to be psyched and yet you're trying to push a completely different message. Fisher: It's hard and it's a sensitive line. This is the men's World Cup. We're not saying "why aren't you watching the women?" It's a fine line and so what we've been really focusing on and emphasizing is the stories of women playing football in the country of men's football, but using this moment when everyone is looking at Brazil, everyone is looking at football and thinking about it, of "what about the women who play?" Not "this should be our time" or "our space," but "what about the Guerreiras?" What is this struggle? Why does it require courage to be a woman playing? So it's kind of going parallel and complementing the World Cup. It's also a really powerful moment, the way that the Cup is generating a lot of conversation around social justice in general, that we're talking about gender justice. Werman: Are you encouraged by changes? Is there something happening with the Guerreiras Project and just attitudes in general that you think are going to change women's soccer in Brazil? Fisher: It's a really good question right now and it's unfortunate because you'll see right now that the tone, the overwhelming sentiment among female players in Brazil is one of discouragement. There is this growing sense of pessimism that it's not going to change. I hear my teammates saying this common phrase all the time: "Não vai mudar, Não vai mudar." "It's not going to change." A lot of this has to do with things that have happened in recent years. The folding of Santos, the women's team in 2012, arguably the top women's team in Latin America, won all the championships - South American Cup, Brazil Cup. They folded largely in part because of Neymar's salary, the top male player for Santos. They wanted to keep him in Brazil, so they increased his salary tenfold and cut the entire women's program. One month of his salary would have covered the whole cost for the whole women's team for the whole year. Something actually really interesting: one of my friends was saying, she's older and played with the national team, "look, a lot of the prejudice has faded inside the house. We have the support of our families now. We have the support of our parents and the people even. But we don't have support from the companies and the clubs." That's what we're seeing the lack of support. Werman: Caitlin Fisher, thanks very much for coming in. Great to meet you. Fisher: Thank you.