EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS PIECE IS AUTHORED BY UN WOMEN AS PART OF THE SERIES “FROM WHERE I STAND”, WHICH CAPTURES PEOPLES STORIES AND THEIR DAILY SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES FROM AROUND THE WORLD. SEE THE FULL SERIES HERE.
When I was elected to the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1990, it was something unheard of. The Committee had 11 men, no one thought they would see a woman sitting there.
There had been concerns about the inclusion of women in the Games since long, but progress was slow.
In the early eighties, in his candidacy for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch suggested to include women in the Committee. It created quite a stir—according to the Greek tradition, women’s inclusion in the Games, as anything more than adornment, was forbidden.
Samaranch was elected in 1981, at the XI Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden, Germany, and soon after, Pirjo Häggman, 29-year-old Finnish sprinter who specialized in the 400 metres and I, 60 at the time, became the first women members of the IOC.
I spent nine years learning from the other members of the Olympic Committee. Then, I thought, we had managed to open the door for women as members of the International Committee, why not push open the doors to the Executive Board?
In 1990, I was elected into the Executive Board. I took my job very seriously, the final goal was to have more women involved in the Olympics.
Slowly, there were more of us. In victory and in defeat, we gained experience and perspective. It was not easy, but women refused to abandon the dream, and we were not alone. There were men among us committed to the cause as well.
Together, we changed the game.
Flor Isava- Fonseca, 95, is a tireless Venezuelan activist, athlete, journalist and writer. Ms. Isava-Fonseca and Finnish athlete Pirjo Häggman were the first women to be elected to the International Olympic Committee in 1981. UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are partners in an innovative joint programme, “One Win Leads to Another“, to build leadership skills of adolescent girls through sport. The programme also creates safe spaces for girls to break social barriers and equips them with basic economic skills, increased knowledge of their bodies and the confidence to access services in the event of violence. Ms. Isava-Fonseca’s story and activism contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 5, on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and its target on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.