To read this content please select one of the options below:

On the Road to Empowerment?: An Uneven Path to Professionalisation in Japanese Women's Football

Elise Edwards (Butler University, USA)

Women’s Football in a Global, Professional Era

ISBN: 978-1-80071-053-5, eISBN: 978-1-80071-052-8

Publication date: 9 March 2023


The Women's Empowerment League, or WE League, was officially launched in September of 2021 as Japan's ‘first professional women's league’. While the WE League was indeed new and categorically different from previous semi-professional leagues in Japan, the declaration that it was the first professional league belied the fact that women's football in Japan had witnessed various forms and degrees of professionalisation over the course of more than 30 years. While full professionalisation is a logical and important goal as women seek equity with men on football pitches and in other sports, I propose that revisiting the history of Japan's women's League provides useful material for contemplating the diverse factors that have motivated support for women's football, driven and derailed international success, and prompted increased professionalisation. Additionally, I argue here that although commercial and advertising interests in women's football have grown in recent years in Japan, the WE League's platform of social welfare and ‘women's empowerment’ is simply the newest iteration of a discourse packaging women's football as emblematic of progressive politics and ‘first-world’ gender norms, which has motivated much of the financial backing – from both the Japan Football Association (JFA) and corporate ranks – of teams and women professionals for the last three decades. Numerous stakeholders have sincere desires to improve not only the status of women's football but also of women in their country; however, the marketing and promotional messaging aimed at furthering those goals commodify critical issues such as women's empowerment and equal opportunity, and thus run the risk of depoliticising them.



Edwards, E. (2023), "On the Road to Empowerment?: An Uneven Path to Professionalisation in Japanese Women's Football", Culvin, A. and Bowes, A. (Ed.) Women’s Football in a Global, Professional Era (Emerald Studies in Sport and Gender), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 67-81.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023 by Emerald Publishing Limited