NO less than 72 hours ago we, as a global community, acknowledged and celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8. Companies and organisations the world over were proud to host conferences with all-female panels, post pictures and videos of staff members clad in purple, posing with an X across their chest hash-tagging “break the bias,” while celebrating their female counterparts. Many retail and sales-based organisations gifted female patrons with flowers, discount cards and themed sweets while wishing them a “happy international women’s day.” But the significance and meaning of a day such as this extend far beyond the meagre 24 hours in which we spend “celebrating” it.
I acknowledge that I must tread carefully from here on for I know that when we begin to wade into the waters of feminism and gender equality many prepare for ranting, bra-burning and man-hating, but it couldn’t be further from the message and symbolism of the day.
I think we must begin understanding what we mean by gender equality. According to the UN (2022), “gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.” Simply put, it’s not the commonly shared misconception that, “women want to be like men.” It is the desire for women to have equal opportunity as men. It is the desire for a woman in the working world not to be paid 18 cents less on every dollar compared to her male counterpart simply because of her gender (Bleiweis 2020).
I imagine you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with sport, and the answer is: everything. The world of sport is plagued with gender inequality and while it has certainly made great strides in the right direction, a road further travelled we must go. Women’s sports and women in sport have faced an uphill battle from inception. From earnings disparities to minuscule commercial investment and broadcasting rights to lesser scholarships, female athletes consistently receive significantly less compared to male athletes despite continuous international competitive success.
One of the most outrageous examples of such is that of the earnings disparity between athletes of the WNBA vs athletes of the NBA. On average a female professional basketballer receiving a salary from the WNBA is paid 98.5 per cent less than that of her male counterpart playing in the NBA, in figures that looks like USD 100,000 versus USD 7 million (Poole 2021).
I know there are many ready to argue that the “entertainment factor” and “interest” is just not large enough in female sports compared to male sports, hence the lack of funding, but actually, statistics demonstrate it’s quite the opposite. According to the Neilsen report (2018) 84 per cent of general sports fans have an interest in women’s sports. Additionally, in 2015 the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final: USA vs Japan was the most viewed football match of all time in the US with approximately 25.4 million viewers.
However, despite these figures women’s sport only receives four per cent commercial investment of the total sports media coverage in print and broadcast. If we look solely at the opportunity to play, collegiate institutions across the US only spend 24 per cent of their athletic operating budgets on female sports and just 16 per cent of their recruiting budgets and 33 per cent of scholarship budgets on female athletes. Loosely translated, this means that annually boys get 1.13 million more sporting opportunities than girls (Box 2021).
So, what does this all mean for local sports stakeholders, coaches, athletes, parents? Why write this article? Because we need to begin discussing it. We need to reflect on where we are now and where we are headed. With commentary like, “that’s a rough sport,” or “don’t play that you’ll get too man-ish,” are we surprised we see fewer girls outside of the traditionally “female,” sports. Are we encouraging sports performance in our boys but physical aesthetics in our girls? Do we highlight enough the incredible women in sport (athletes, administrators, and coaches) that we have right here in Trinidad and Tobago as ambassadors to encourage our young girls to play? Do we socialise our girls with bats and balls and boxing gloves just as much as we do our boys?
Sport is a beautiful social and cultural phenomenon that has the power to bring the world together. Why would you not want to create equality among the extraordinary men and women who partake in it?
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