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Cellestine Olilo: Research key in fight for gender equality in sports

On Tuesday this week, I spent the better part of the afternoon chatting with a young PhD student from Egerton University who is conducting research on gender equality in sports.

It was really encouraging to encounter a local student, a male one for that matter, taking the initiative to dig deeper into the issue of gender bias in sports.

It was, for me, an elaborate indication of the growing realisation that male and female athletes are separated by more than just differing sexual organs. 

Viewing female athletes as little men is not just simplistic, it is deceptive and demeaning too.

Today, women have greater opportunities than ever before to engage in sports up to the professional level. However, discrimination persists around   the world, acting as a deterrence to women and girl’s participation in various sporting activities.

The importance of challenging these norms has become increasingly   recognised by international actors, sports bodies and even within communities.

For instance, the UN Resolution 58/5 adopted in 2003 calls on governments to use sports to promote equality, education, health and peace.

UNESCO and UNDP have both recognised the value of sport as a tool of development, and have supported projects to use sport as a means of empowerment and development.

Substantial research was perhaps the missing link in efforts to rectify years of discrimination against athletes who are women.

Based on my brief chat with Paul Kinyua, the PhD student, I now realise that this could perhaps be the decade that things finally change. It is true that lack of female-specific sports research has largely contributed to holding back female athletes, but have you ever wondered why this is so?

Well, according to leading advocates of gender equality in sports, the bias stems from the fact that men were predominantly the ones conducting the research, and in the position to make decisions about policy and research.

There’s also the issue of funding, where very few sports organisations have come out to support or commission gender specific research activities.

Then there are the logistical and methodological hurdles. It isn’t easy, and certainly not cheap, to study female athletes because women, by their very nature, exhibit greater physiological variability due to fluctuating hormones.

This could perhaps be the reason there are so many stereotypes about women being inferior to their male counterparts in terms of speed, power and performance.

One hopes that in this decade, more researchers like Paul will emerge and join the movement. The findings of his research will no doubt benefit women all over the world, not just female athletes.

I also challenge students in the country studying medicine to delve into this topic, because it is important for female athletes to know how their biological differences can be harnessed for them to achieve their best potential.

I can’t wait for someone to develop a manual that can help female athletes understand the inner workings of their bodies and home in on the best nutritional and training strategy for them to achieve peak performance.

Meanwhile, I congratulate sports CS Amina Mohamed on the dedicated fight she put up in the race for the WTO top job.

Despite the last minute elimination from the race, she put up a gallant fight and her ambition and drive will certainly inspire more girls and women to fully exploit their potential, regardless of any existing barriers. Hats off, Madam CS.

colilo@ke.nationmedia.com

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