Let women’s voices be heard in our sports

Written by Harold Ndege

Sports has enormous power to generate real social, economic and environmental change. Some of these changes contribute to sustainable development, social cohesion and even challenge mindsets and prejudices.

In the context of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, sport has a huge potential to empower women and girls, and play its role in gender development.

Sport can be a force to amplify women’s voices and tear down gender barriers and discrimination. Women in sports defy the misconception that they are weak or incapable.

Every time they clear a hurdle or kick a ball, demonstrating not only physical strength, but also leadership and strategic thinking, they take a step towards gender equity.

There is proof that participation in sports can help break down gender stereotypes, improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and contribute to the development of leadership skills.

Research has shown that media coverage of women’s sports still lags behind mostly because female sports journalists face discrimination in the workplace.

There is, however, some hope for female sports journalists. Take, for instance Radio Africa’sCarol Radull who has broken the gender inequality ceiling in Kenya’s media fraternity.

Not only is she the Group Head of Digital Content at Radio Africa, she also commands a sizeable following on her Kiss FM Saturday afternoon sports show and has been mandated to head Bamba Sports TV – a station that will soon air Football Kenya Federation (FKF) National Super League matches live.

Women are far more visible in Kenyan football today than before. Sports programmes provide women and girls with opportunities to develop leadership skills.

Take the case of Judith Nyangi, a former Kenya U-20 kits manager who has just bagged K’Ogalo’s Organising Secretary position.

Sally Bolo, a banker, secured the treasurer’s slot after losing elections for the same post three consecutive times. Beryl Peres Anyango won the Assistant Organising Secretary’s seat.

Sports aims to promote values of fairness, advocating for equality, non-discrimination, non-violence, girls’ empowerment and positive masculine traits among boys.

Quality sports activities build leadership skills as epitomised in the K’Ogalo elections. They aim to foster self-esteem, support positive and healthy decisions, and help prevent gender-based violence.

Sports also engages men and women to challenge negative gender stereotypes and be partners for positive change. Football in particular alters gender norms.

Research conducted on the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) programme revealed that girls’ participation in the programme appeared related to the way male football players perceived their roles.

Boys, it was observed, adopted a positive and supportive attitude towards their female counterparts. Participation in the programme has become synonymous with being aware of gender roles and norms.

Dorris Petra is the current FKF vice chairman and is in charge of women’s football in the country. Immediately after Harambee Starlets qualified for the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Cameroon, a women’s league was set up under her leadership.

The Nick Mwendwa-led federation should receive accolades for that.