WOMEN NEEDED ON THE FRONTLINE FOR SPORTS
Written by: Nicole Bowran
“Being the only female in an all-male team made me want to work hard and prove that women can do what they choose to do,” she says with a determined smile on her face.
Former Isipingo High School student, Latoya Ann (22) was the only female in her school’s golf team. Her passion and talent was underestimated by the other team members, but she refused to let being a girl determine her desired path in life.
“At school I had a passion for golf and I wasn’t going to let anyone try to squash it. I made sure I did my best and even went on to play for the KwaZulu-Natal team,” said Ann.
In sports, the public generally associate certain sporting codes with specific genders. Rugby, cricket and golf are seen as a man’s sport and netball, volleyball and hockey are seen as a woman’s.
But what about the women who no longer want to play sport that society stereotypically wants them to play? More media attention and exposure needs to be given to those who empower the female youth. Stereotypes in sport have created barriers that females have been hesitant to cross. In the past if a women played football or rugby they were categorized as ‘butch’ or ‘non-feminine’. In a country passionate about sports, women participation and empowerment in sport should be a priority. In order to encourage women empowerment and equality in sports, more female teams and athletes need to be featured. The lack of media coverage of women’s sport also limits encouraging women empowerment and equality.
Journalism student, Sauda Haffajee, is a feminist agent working to dismantle patriarchy in society. Haffajee stated that it’s important for females to break down society’s stereotypical barriers as these barriers don’t support gender equality.
“It is important that females break down the societal norms of patriarchy in order for them to rise to the sporting level men are already at, which includes prioritised media coverage. This suggests that certain sports are only for males’ results in society not encouraging and supporting females in any sporting activity, including the Olympics,” said Haffajee.
Women empowerment through sport allows females to break the barriers of stereotypes in sport and explore activities that have previously been reserved for men. Athletes such as Serena Williams (tennis), Stacey Lewis (golf) and South Africa’s Caster Semenya (athletics) have paved an inspirational path for women to take part in any sport that they desire and achieve great things. Semenya’s journey of being a female athlete has faced criticism due to gender speculation. Instead of praising and uplifting a woman who achieved gold in the 2009 Berlin World Championship, she was investigated, discriminated and humiliated. However, Semenya never let critics and comparison to male athletes determine what she was worth and whether she should continue with athletics. She went on to win gold in the 400m running event at the 2016 Rio Olympics becoming a role model and sporting hero for women empowerment and equality.
Women’s participation in sport allows for development of skills, leadership, self-esteem and perseverance. It is a tool for empowering and encouraging female youth in developing countries. More females are needed to be role models in sport for the next generation of sports leaders.
Hockey player for Durban University of Technology, Elizabeth Kunene, feels that sport shouldn’t be based on gender but on potential.
“Some of us do play different types of sport, even guy sports. I play soccer, I play netball and I play hockey. I don’t think there is a sport where people should say it’s only for men or it’s only for women. I think as women you can do anything that is possible. I think that if you think you have the power to do it, then you should go ahead and do it,” said Kunene.
Sports fanatic, Sandile Lukhozi, also supports women empowerment through sport.
“Women now have the option of soccer and women’s rugby which has made women empower themselves and express themselves. I always see women like Maria Sharapova doing very well in the world of sport. I think they are really taking a stand and putting women up there in terms of sport,” said Lukhozi.
Women empowerment and equality through sport is an important factor towards social development. Gender discrimination in sport has oppressed many female athletes in the past. Sport is a public platform that can promote women empowerment and equality to ensure that there are more women on the front line of sports teams.