Finding strength and independence through sport was once a foreign concept for many women, but thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Stanton, thatʼs all changing.
Elizabeth Stanton grew up near Chicago and always looked forward to the newest Evanston Review; flicking eagerly through its pages to see if she, or someone she knew, was going to be the athletic star of the issue.
“I felt fortunate enough to have images of stars and Nike ads and have the feeling that I can do whatever I wanted,” she says. Elizabeth feels her project, Through Her Eyes, is an outlet “that captures the voices and faces of women around the world in developing countries, [and] hopefully gets more women and girls in the game and garners more support for them. I grew up with these images, and I think they are a powerful reinforcement tool, which are many times lacking in media in developing countries.” Through Her Eyes is an exhibit and website dedicated to empowering women in Third World countries through sports as a vehicle for social and economic change.
Elizabeth was first exposed to how little coverage women were getting in the media while in Costa Rica. While working at the Tico Times, she noticed articles on womenʼs sports in general were nowhere near close to the kind of coverage in Evanston. After working in Costa Rica, she returned to the States to work at the New York Times in Chicago. She began researching the project in 2002, and has constantly been working ever since.
“When I decided to do the project, I spent quite a bit of time just researching how much work had been done and how much attention had been paid,” Elizabeth says. “Today there is such a push that has a different outlook on how sports can be used and why sports are important for everyone, especially women. When I started, it was out there, but it wasnʼt being totally accepted. It wasnʼt something being pushed as a way to help women beyond regular groups and school and people who were behind sports who already had that idea.”
When she began her project, “there hardly was any research on the subject of women and sports in developing countries,” she says. Elizabeth began focusing her work on Ecuador. “I found that it was one of the first countries in Central and South America to start a womenʼs commission within their National Olympic Committee,” she says.
She found a contact through Sandra López, who at the time was the head of the press department in the Ecuadorian Olympic Committee (EOC), and helped Elizabeth get the support of the President of the EOC to begin speaking to female athletes and help bring their stories to light.
Elizabeth spent most of 2003 traveling around Ecuador, interviewing, photographing, and recording the stories of these athletes for the Through Her Eyes Project. She explains, “I got help from many people at the Ecuadorian Olympic Committee and people and athletes throughout Ecuador;” but she shot and edited all the photographs and video on her own. As for funding, she further explains, “I hadnʼt gotten any outside funding… and I had just decided that I believed in this project and I wanted to do it.” She edited everything together in her spare time while working at various freelance journalism and documentary production jobs.
In 2011, Elizabeth toured the Through Her Eyes exhibit in six major Ecuadorian cities. The first night, she says, “We had over 400 visitors. The show opened in Guayaquil.” The exhibit contains 50 large-scale photographs and 75 short documentary videos of “all types of women and girls – from Olympic-level athletes, to moms who play soccer on Sundays.” At every exhibit stop, she was met with news cameras and families – not just women – coming to see her work and draw inspiration. Elizabeth was invited to show the exhibit at the South American Beach Games in December 2011, which led members of other national Olympic committees to reach out and have her visit those countries and bring attention to their own female athletes and their uplifting stories. Using the Through Her Eyes project, Elizabeth hopes the athletes showcased will inspire others through their courage, power and determination.
She has many stories that support the idea of female empowerment through sport. “[There is a group of women] in the town of Ibarra, at the bottom of a mountain, that have been meeting up and playing soccer for the past 15 years, and now their daughters are playing as well,” she says. “They would bring their kids if the husbands would say, ʻWell you can go play if you take the kids.ʼ They would have the kids along the sidelines, cheering them on. During breaks, [the women] would check if the babies were okay and keep playing.”
Elizabeth has found that women from all walks of life – from women coming from well-off families, to those traveling from the jungle – experience the same enjoyment and accomplishment through sports. She says sporting programs have the potential to allow women to surprise themselves. “They gain much more than what they expected and theyʼre going to make the time for it,” she says.
Elizabeth hopes to tour her exhibit in the United States, beginning in Chicago and New York, as well as setting up “sister teams” between the US and Ecuador and other countries. These teams would include women of all ages and from diverse socio- economic backgrounds, and work with each other through sports clothes and equipment drives, as well as interacting through an online community.
Elizabeth Stanton wants women to have the same opportunities for self-esteem growth as she did. She has put together this program and inspired women to try and change the roles theyʼre expected to perform, and instead strive for what they might not even know they can achieve.
You can find Elizabethʼs Through Her Eyes website, on Tumblr, and on Twitter
Below are some photos from Elizabeth’s exhibit:
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
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Featured image by Philip Stevens