International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The day honors the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women's success, and reminds of inequities still to be redressed. The first International Women's Day event was run in 1911. This year is the Global Centenary Year and leads us to reflect over the sports society and whether or not we have made progress in issues of gender equality in sport.
International Women’s Day in 1911 is in some ways very similar to International Women’s Day in 2011. This is a rather depressing thought as it can mean that the struggles of women are pretty much the same a hundred years later. Much so within the sphere of sport since the reality of women within the sport realm is closely tied to and is in many ways a reflection of women’s position in broader society. There is however a great contribution to women’s development by the sport sector and the campaign has over the years included the sport sector as an active area of activism and action against the injustice of gender inequality.
There is a diversity of initiatives by women that use sport, physical activity and recreation to address development issues including health, education and poverty among others.
From the freezing slopes of the Himalayas mountains in Nepal, the Three Sisters Trekking; A group of women training in trekking to support the livelihoods of their families; in the bustling slums of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya award winning Mathare Youth Sport Association provides scholarships for girls and young women, in Livingstone, Zambia, Kwenuha Women’s Association uses sport to facilitate reintegration of former sex workers into their communities, in the sweltering heat of Vietnam there are young girls and women learning about HIV/AIDS prevention through a sport program by the Football Federation of Vietnam.
We should not forget the significant role that women in sport have played in conflict resolution and post war reconciliation; a cadre of women who are ‘waging peace’ by bringing communities that at one time were killing each other in cold blood to now play together in friendship and peace. The Association of Kigali Women in Sport established after the war in Rwanda has provided space for recreation and healing.
The sport for development community should celebrate International Women’s Day to demonstrate to the world these contributions that sport is making to better the lives of women and their communities.
Secondly, we should participate in this campaign because there are still inequality issues that need to be addressed. These inequalities manifest in sport through domination of men in leadership and decision making, limited allocation of resources to sport programs and activities for women and girls, limited media coverage, lower prize and remuneration value for women professional athletes and sexual harassment of women and girls.
The Commemoration of International Women’s Day is significant as an advocacy platform, a forum for joint action and expression of commitment to the advancement of women’s right to sport and overall well being.
The National Organisation for Women in Sport Physical Activity and Recreation (NOWSPAR) in Zambia holds an annual Women's Sport Day in commemoration of Women's Day. This year, the sports day is held under the theme ' Violence Against Women in Sport: Stepping Up to the Challenge'.
Activities include media discussions, youth forums, meetings and sports festivals involving over 200 women, men, youth and children in mostly rural areas of Zambia.
In 1911 the goal of activists was gender equality, 100 years later, lots of progress has been made but the goal is not yet a reality and we need to keep working at it with the rest of the world.
In the word of Michelle Bachellet 'Gender Equality Must Become a Lived Reality.', until then, the struggle continues.