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Overcoming Gender Bias Through Sport: Sexual Violence in Sport a Reality

Author: Prof Marion Keim

Gender-based violence within sports has not received enough attention by sports governance bodies. SA is developing a policy that prioritises the safety of sportswomen.

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Image: Courtesy of UWC Media, Marketing and Communication office

(Published - 11 August 2019)

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sport enhances women and girls’ health, self-esteem, empowerment and leadership opportunities as it addresses discrimination, and facilitates social inclusion. The positive results of sport for promoting gender equality and women empowerment are, however, hindered by gender-based discrimination in all areas and at all levels of sport and physical activity. Sportsmen are revered and often idolised. Yet, domestic violence incidences by male athletes against their family members and partners are a significant challenge affecting sport globally. Most of these incidents never come to the public eye.

Despite South Africa’s progressive constitutional stance on gender equality, the impact is yet to be fully manifested in the sporting arena. Sport — being historically a male-dominated sphere — has left female athletes to encounter various forms of discrimination including inequality, sexual harassment, violence and victimisation. South Africa is presently developing a policy on women and sport that ensures, inter alia, that “all women and girls have the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity in a safe and supportive environment which preserves the rights, dignity and respect of the individual”. The new policy intends to “increase cooperation between women and men and ensure the support of men in order to promote gender equality in sport and physical activity”.

How can universities support this crucial development and ensure the safety and equality of all its athletes? Moreover, what is the role of academic and non-academic university sport programmes in fostering the qualities of mutual respect, care and responsibility as it grooms new generations of male athletes?

Here are some of the questions UWC can ask itself in this regard:

  • How do we apply UWC’s new Sexual Violence and Harassment Policy in our sporting arenas?
  • What do we, as a University, have to do to maintain this policy in all spheres, including sport on and off campus?
  • How do we expand and deepen the conversation about the origins, meaning and consequences of hyper-masculinity in male sport?
  • How do we develop our young male athletes into adults who role model the Olympic and Paralympic values?

At the Interdisciplinary Centre for Sport Science and Development (ICSSD), we are beginning to look at these questions and at our role as a research and academic centre. In collaboration with the Sport Administration and the Department of Sport, Recreation and Exercise Science (SRES), ICSSD focuses on advancing sport as a tool for development, including the empowerment and safety of women.

Our postgraduate Diploma in Sport, Development and Peace, and our new Masters in Sport for Development, challenge students to reflect on these critical issues, conduct interdisciplinary research, become empowered as agents of change for gender equality and sport, and provides input to sporting structures locally, provincially and internationally.

Sport can be a powerful platform to promote gender equality and to address and prevent sexual harassment, domestic and sexual violence, and discrimination of all forms. It is time for us to use sport for all that it can do, so our students, athletes and coaches can be all they can be.​​​​

This article was first published in the Women's Month special edition of the Blue and Gold - UWC Sports' official magazine. Read the full magazine here.​​​​​​​​​​

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