Marta Vieira da Silva and One Win Leads to Another girls celebrate women’s empowerment in Brazil Carnival

“Her fight is our flag, every second showing to the world the strength of the Brazilian woman” sang the parade-goers on Saturday, as tens of thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, celebrated the power and strength of women through the inspiring journey of the soccer player, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and UN SDG Advocate, Marta Vieira da Silva. She was honoured in the Carnival parade by the samba school Inocentes de Belford Roxo.

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“Her fight is our flag, every second showing to the world the strength of the Brazilian woman” sang the parade-goers on Saturday, as tens of thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, celebrated the power and strength of women through the inspiring journey of the soccer player, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and UN SDG Advocate, Marta Vieira da Silva. She was honoured in the Carnival parade by the samba school Inocentes de Belford Roxo.

For 40 minutes, in brilliant colour, dance and fanfare, Marta’s story of facing challenges, overcoming gender barriers, and inspiring other women and girls was retold along the avenue. Revelers, floats, and decorations represented milestones in her life, since her childhood playing soccer in the streets of her village in the Northeast of Brazil, to moving to Rio de Janeiro to pursue a career in soccer, and then going on to play in Sweden and, finally, in the United States, where she current lives.

Her roles in the United Nations, as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, and Advocate appointed by the UN Secretary-General for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), was the theme of her float, where she stood cheering the public with her mother, Teresa Vieira, and her coach for the National Team in Brazil, Pia Sundhage.

The float was preceded by a group of around 80 people in UN blue costumes led by sixteen girls from the One Win Leads to Another programme of UN Women and the International Olympic Committee. They represented the younger generations that see in Marta a strong role model who inspires them to keep striving for change.

Widely regarded as the best female football player of all time, named FIFA World Player of the Year six times and winning the silver medal at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, last year, Marta also became the top scorer of FIFA World Cups, among both women and men. This unique achievement, which sets her apart as a sport icon, only brings her closer to the girls who see themselves in her story.

Earlier on the day of the parade, while girls from the One Win Leads to Another programme were playing and rehearsing the lyrics of the parade song, Marta showed up as a surprise. Most of them found it hard to hold back their tears, but they didn’t miss the opportunity to tell her what she means to them. Footballer Kathely Rosa (19) summed it up: “I have struggled with the same barriers you were able to overcome. I see myself in your story. You are an inspiration to me.”

Marta, who says her UN roles are the highest recognition of her journey, knows her power in leading the way for other girls to follow. “I like having this responsibility of bringing this generation with me,” she said, acknowledging too how participating in a samba parade helps the general public relate to the UN’s work.

“Not everyone gets information the same way. When the message of SDG 5 on gender equality becomes a samba, it creates huge social impact,” reflected Gabriela Mesquita (16).

Rebeca dos Anjos (14) agreed with her: “Carnival is something that everyone loves in Brazil. It is very important that the themes we fight for everyday conquer this kind of space”.

Marta underlined how impactful the serious side of the celebration was. “We are here, together, to break barriers, to show that gender equality makes the difference in the world, and that we are free to choose what we want to do!”, she said.