Sakshi Malik’s wrestling bronze was the first medal that India won at the ongoing Rio Olympics. Badminton player PV Sindhu is in the women’s singles finals. Gymnast Dipa Karmakar lost a bronze by a whisker, but won the world’s heart.
These women and all the others representing India and almost every nation on earth at the Olympics are more than sportspeople. They are icons of gender equality, showing how far women have come since they were not permitted to compete in sport at all, and how far women still have to go before sexism and inequality are wiped out completely.
So it makes sense at this point to return to the speech made by Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Women Deputy Director, at a UN event earlier this year, in which she spoke about women and sport.
Here are 10 points Puri made that we should hold in our hearts so we can bridge gaps, empower ourselves and change the way women are perceived.
- “In many countries, it has been recognized that sport can be a force to amplify women’s voices and tear down gender barriers and discrimination. Women in sport defy the misperception 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 equality.”
- “There is good evidence 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.”
- “It is interesting to note that since 1991, any new sport seeking to join the Olympic programme must have women’s competitions. Yet even at mega events, women still face challenges. At the last FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015, women were required to play on artificial turf, which is often regarded as more physically punishing than natural grass. It is impossible to imagine a men’s world cup on this type of surface.”
- “Media attention to women’s sport in general is extremely low in comparison to men’s. Just have a look at the sports section of ‘The New York Times’ on any day of the week. Chances are there are no photos and no stories of women athletes. That has a very negative effect on sportswomen’s salaries and access to sponsorships, tournaments, leagues to showcase their capacity and skills.”
- “Across professional sports, in fact, one of the most obvious and quantifiable manifestations of gender-based discrimination is that women athletes face a huge pay gap. The total pay-out for the Women’s World Cup was USD 15 million, compared with USD 576 million for the last men’s World Cup — nearly 40 times more for men. The exception is tennis, which since 2007 has awarded equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments.”
- “While sports events aim to promote values of fairness, there is also a dark side. Violence against women and girls occurs in all countries and happens in many situations, including in relation to sports events. Evidence from the UK suggests that domestic violence increases during world cups or when the home team loses. Trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation vastly increases during sporting ‘mega events’ such as the Olympics and World Cups.”
- “Sport is an area in which we can leverage our partnerships and engagement with different audiences to teach everyone that gender-based violence has no place in it, on or off the field, anywhere in our lives and that a future where all playing fields are truly level for all women and girls can be achieved.”
- “UN Women has established a great partnership with the Valencia Club de Fútbol [in Brazil] through which we are working to change stereotypes, challenge misconceptions of masculinity and VCF is becoming a gender equality champion and mobilizing resources for UN Women’s mandate. We have been able to voice our gender equality message from a different speaker — a football club — and share the gender equality and women’s empowerment message in a new way and with an audience not necessarily familiar with our work — the football stars, players and football fans.”
- “Let us remember today Cathy Templeton, who made a name for herself in the motorcycle racing world. In 1997, she said: ‘I am the first ever female AMA pro hill-climb racer. I’m rather excited by all the attention I am getting because of this, but I’m also a little disappointed that it has taken so long for women to step into this position.’
- “Realizing gender equality in sports is therefore a great tool in the arsenal of sustainable development. Let sports empower all people, women and men, for a sustainable future for people and planet, our planet 50-50 by 2030 latest.”