Honey Thaljieh: “When you empower women you empower all of society.”

· by Patrick Gornic

Honey Thaljieh is a regular speaker at global conferences and prestigious international organisations and universities and gave two talks at the world-famous TEDx in Zurich and Lausanne. She is an international activist, inspirational speaker, and community leader. Honey is a strong advocate for the role of sports in changing lives, creating hope and opportunities, and empowering women, and a tireless champion for the importance of equality and inclusion in football and the sports industry.

Thaljieh is Manager of Corporate Communications at FIFA, where she founded and leads the FIFA Annual Conference for Equality and Inclusion. As the Corporate Communications Manager, Honey also works to communicate FIFA’s efforts and lead projects to promote diversity, gender equality, integration, empowerment, and peace initiatives through football.

She is also is the co-founder of women’s football in Palestine, the first captain of the Palestinian national football team, and the first woman in the Middle East to obtain a FIFA Master and be employed by FIFA.

Honey is also recognised as a Champion for Peace by the organisation Peace and Sport and serves as an ambassador for several pro-social sports organisations.

Thaljieh was one of the speakers at WFS Asia and we sat down with her for a small Q&A.

 Hi, Honey. The world nowadays moves at a very fast pace, and football has abandoned its “amateur” essence to become one of the most important industries in the world. Have you seen a big change in the football industry in the past few years and the way it has evolved?

Of course! There are a lot of changes happening. Football is moving forward, there’s development and we are improving it step-by-step, although there’s still a lot of work ahead of us.

When we talk about 2019, there’s a lot to do in terms of diversity, inclusion or putting women in leadership positions. I think that we are on the right track and the future will be bright if we have the right leaders and the right organizations caring about the game.

Next month, the 2019 FIFA Women’s world cup will take place. The football for women is growing significantly, more than some experts expected. In Spain, a few months ago, there was a match that broke all the attendance records in women’s football. What’s your opinion about it and how do we keep this trend?

Exactly. FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid Femenino broke the worldwide attendance record when 60,000 spectators attended their game. That sets an example and turns the match into a success case. The following week the Juventus women’s team also broke the Italian record with 40,000 spectators. That’s what we want to see: more interest and more investment in the game, because, in the end, this affects the whole society and the revenues that come from it benefit and enrich the game itself.

What could clubs or institutions do to make equality happen sooner? Even if we’re going in the right direction, there’s still a lot to do.

They need to commit and they need to have statutes and regulations. That’s the fastest way to make it happen: to have an obligation for it.

It’s important that a lot of people talk about equality in the game, about wanting to increase investment and resources in women’s football, but it’s more important that we see action. Words and slogans are not enough. We need to take steps forward. As I always say, leadership is a series of actions not just a position for glory. It’s not just about talking; it’s about making it happen.

There are many women footballers in Spain playing in the first division who can’t live with the money they make from their clubs. That’s a big difference with any male footballer. How do we break that wall?

The women game has had its historical disadvantage since football started because women didn’t have opportunities and equality at that time.

Any effort to address this issue must take into account the historical reality so we don’t keep falling into the same cycle of not enough pay, not enough interest and not enough investment and its keeps repeating itself

It’s important to increase awareness and make sure that we are presenting the case of women’s football to the world. If we get good exposure then we get good revenues, then attention from media and sponsors will eventually increase. When the interest increases the money eventually does too. It has to be a collective effort.

Women alone can’t fight the fight; we need the men as agents of change because they are currently the decision makers of the game. They need to give opportunities for girls and open doors.

Women in general lack opportunities, whether is on the pitch or off the pitch and that’ something I focus a lot on.

Give them opportunities and see the outcome: you will be proud of them. The consequence will be great for everyone, on an economical, social and cultural level. When you empower women you empower all of society.

In the past year, we’ve seen institutions like FIFA making efforts to give more exposure and attention to women’s football. For instance, FIFA is doing a lot of efforts to make this world cup more mainstream and accessible to the public. Why is this happening now?

Part of it is leadership and part of it is that we are at the beginning of a new era. The times are changing. We have leaders now like the Secretary General Fatma Samoura and President Gianni Infantino that understand what needs to be done to move the game forward. As I said, the benefits are for everyone and the outcome is all invested in the beautiful game. It’s 2019 and, as in every other industry, the football world is evolving and we have organizations and individuals involved in football who are calling for change.

Moving into a different subject, the Asian football industry has grown tremendously in the past few years and is getting the attention of many of the biggest clubs and leagues in the world. What’s the current situation of the Asian football industry?

The Asian football industry is the future as half of the world’s population comes from Asia.

The potential is there and the resources too. We need to put a lot of focus on football and what it can do for men and women there. You know, football has a lot of power to influence and bring change in all aspects: cultural, social, political… It brings people together regardless of background, nationality, gender or ethnicity and it has huge potential to use its power in changing the world, whether it is on or off the pitch. Football is the game that everybody loves watching and playing.

Asia has the possibility to increase participation in women’s football in countries like China, India or Japan. There’s a huge market in Asia and I’m happy that World Football Summit organized the summit in Kuala Lumpur.

If Europe’s quite behind in the game’s equality, Asia is doing even worse in many countries. What’s your message to the Asian girls that want to play football?

My advice to Asian girls: don’t be shy to chase your dreams, dream big and work hard to make your dreams come true. Have the courage and believe in yourself; fight for your rights so that they can build a better future. The future is all yours and you will be the ones who will drive change in all aspects. Shoot for the stars and you might land on the moon. The sky is the limit.