Indian tennis star Sania Mirza was Tuesday appointed the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the South Asian region by UN Women at an event held to mark the International Day To End Violence Against Women.
Sania, India's most successful women's tennis player and the first Indian to break into the World Tennis Association's top 50 rankings, is the first South Asian woman to be appointed the goodwill ambassador in the organisation's history.
"My role is a very important battle that I will fight off the tennis court for gender equality. Gender Equality is what I believe in," the ace tennis player said.
In her capacity as the goodwill ambassador, she intends to educate women about gender equality.
The issue, in her opinion, is a cultural problem where women feel they are second-class citizens.
"To that effect, there is an urgent need to change this mindset. Women must be made aware that they are equal to men," Sania said.
Emphasising the importance of the government's involvement in affecting a change to make sports in India more inclusive and women friendly, she acknowledged the support of the sports minister to women's sports.
"Equality depends on each and all of us. From the government that changes its laws, to the company that advances equal pay and equal opportunity, to the mother and father who teach their daughter and son that all human beings should be treated equally, to the athletes who demonstrate equality and excellence," Sania said.
She said it was an "honour to serve UN Women as the Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia".
"It inspires me to work harder towards a level playing field for women. Gender equality in sports as well as using sports to advocate for gender equality in communities is essential," she said.
On the occasion, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said: "Sania has been a role model for girls and women of India, and her appointment as UN Goodwill Ambassador is a moment of pride for the country.
"As the custodians of the nation, the government's constant endeavour will be provide the right opportunities and environment so that other girls can emulate Sania's success and bring glory to the country," he said.
According to the latest UN report on gender violence in India, six out of 10 men have admitted to perpetrating violence against their wife or partner in various forms. The picture is even grimmer with the national average of 919 for 1,000 males.
Explaining the reason for the UN Women's choice of making Sania their voice in South Asia, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Women deputy executive director Lakshmi Puri said: "Sania is a woman of achievement and represents girls' and women's struggle for equality."
"She has been a role model to many children, including girls to break barriers and strive for their goals in life and career choices. She has used the spotlight on her professional success to highlight social issues that are of concern for many Indians, speaking out on issues such as the need to halt the practice of female foeticide and the decreasing sex ratio in India," said a statement by UN Women.