I recently had a conversation with a friend who is knowledgeable about Title IX, the landmark legislation that nearly a half century ago, in 1972, banned discrimination on the basis of sex within federally funded schools.

Its impact has been felt the most in terms of providing a level playing field for girls to engage in sports. During our passionate conversation I started wondering what the world would be like if all girls worldwide had access to sports, that is, had their Title IX.

The eye-opening conversation brought back a flood of memories from my childhood and made me appreciate all the more what it’s like to live in America. Then I realized that Title IX is under threat in the U.S. and I don’t think the people who want to remove Title IX realize what a difference it makes.

I know because I did not have it as a young girl growing up in Baghdad, Iraq, at a time and in a place where girls and women were neither expected nor allowed to be enthusiastic about playing sports. There were no explicit laws prohibiting girls from playing sports, but it was discouraged at every turn. I was told, again and again, “Girls don’t play sports.”

I witnessed firsthand, girls being heckled for playing sports and the onslaught of accusations of unfeminine behavior towards these girls.

In America today, it’s a vastly different situation. Because of Title IX, the NCAA says the number of female college athletes is at an all-time high and the number of girls playing high school sports has dramatically risen from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than three million.

Yet, the pay gap between professional female and male athletes looms large, which is why the U.S. Women’s Soccer players sued the United States Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, including claiming pay discrimination. The World Cup championship Women’s Soccer team was paid just $1,725,000 for winning the whole tournament while the men’s team was paid $5, 375,000 for losing. Appropriately, the women’s team filed on International Women’s Day, March 8th.

But at least this is a better battle than having to fight to play in the first place.

Playing sports is so important—and not just because of the health benefits of exercise. Studies in Canada, Europe, and the USA, have shown that physical activities can go a long way in boosting a child’s self-esteem.

Reyzan Shali, M.D. is a practicing Internist in Vista, Calif.