Pratik Puri: Indian women have shown exemplary results in many sports and have brought various laurels to the nation. However, women athletes have generated less publicity through their performances have outshone their male counterparts. Indian women sportspersons who have made the country proud are P.T. Usha (Athletics), Kunjarani Devi and Karnam Malleshwari (Weight lifting), Diana Edulji, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami (Cricket), Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu (Badminton), Deepika Kumari (Archery), Krishna Poonia (Discuss), Geeta Phogat (Wrestling), Marry Kom (Boxing), Anjali Bhagwat (Shooting). Significantly, in the international arena, Deepika Kumari, Saina Nehwal & Marry Kom have achieved better results than their male counterparts in their respective sports.
Challenges Faced by Sportswomen in India Today
Sports psychologists have found that women participating in sports are often faced with issues like gender verification, homophobic concerns about their feminity, media coverage for the wrong reasons, etc. Women who participate in sporting activities are often categorized as manly or ugly and such perceptions reached their peak with the emergence of Soviet Women in sports who sometimes showed up at events with flat chests, thin moustaches and deep voices.
- Gender Verification: The determination for eligibility of women athletes to participate in the female category has always been a source of controversy. Testing &establishing the sex or gender of athletes dates back to the 1960s, where competitors were paraded naked in front of a panel of judges in order to verify the presence of female genitalia.
The IAAF hyper androgenism policy as of April 2011, stated that for females to compete in a women’s event they must have androgen levels outside of the male range or if androgen levels within the male range exist then the female athlete must establish that she derives no advantage from such levels. The lower limit of androgen level for male at 6.9mm. In athletics, there has been a sociopolitical division created to recognize the athletes’ specific aptitude and performance. These policies in the name of sex or gender verification assume that the development of sexually dimorphic traits differ between men and women.
Dutee Chand, a promising 19-year old athlete was dropped from the Common Wealth Games, 2014 contingent at the last minute after the Athletic Federations of India found traits of hyperandrogenism that made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete in Glasgow. The test was conducted by the Sports Authority of India.
The Sports Authority of India has however contradicted the stand by IAAF and stated that it was convinced that androgen levels in a female’s body were no yardstick for eligibility and helped her move her case to the “Court of Arbitration” for Sports (CAS) against the IOC and IAAF. Dutee filed an appeal before CAS seeking to overturn AFI’s decision and declare the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism policy as null and void. SAI went a step further, allowing her to compete in the State and National competitions until a final verdict was declared against the IAAF’s policies.
The CAS in an interim award suspended IAAF’s regulation which made athletes with hyperandgenism ineligible to compete in the female category.
The whole issue could have been handled better and enthusiastic policies without consideration of its adverse impact should have been avoided.
- Homophobia: Any athlete who is accused of being masculine is treated with scorn and subjected to not only physiological probing but also psychological trauma. Having features resembling what is labelled as “manly” seem to be enough reason to be accused of having an extra Y chromosome and being treated like a criminal. This completely ignores the ethnic characteristics of different racial profiles in various continents.
Such was the case for Pinki Praminik, India’s track and field star, who has been an inspiration for the country with her success as a member of the national team in 4X100m relay that won a silver at the Common Wealth Games, 2006. Pinki was arrested in June 2012, after a woman claiming to be her live-in partner accessed her of being a man masquerading as a woman for years and alleged that Pinki has raped her. A series of medical tests were performed on Pinki after her bail pea was rejected and an eleven-member medical panel reviewed the reports.
It was reported that Pinki had male features. Pinki blamed ‘testosterone injections’ for making her more masculine which was required by her for participating in international events.
- Financial Issues: Even the mindset of those who are liberal as compared to those who oppose or overlook women’s participation is such, that for them it is difficult to believe that Indian women can compete at the international level. Kaveri Prakash, a young bright female athlete who faced adversities and issues related to participating in sports in India because of lack of finances or instance for sexual harassment. Many women with similar situations in India have to give up for similar situations and concentrate on domesticity.
In India, sports are not considered as a source of earning for women. The job prospect for professional sportspersons in India are extremely limited.
- Sexual Harassment: One of the main contributory factors that hinder women’s participation in sports. Especially in India is the problem of sexual harassment. Sexual vulnerability is definitely one of the biggest challenges for women in sports and the careers of many sports women have come to a halt because of this reason. The situation is such that families don’t allow their women to trained by a male coach.
There have been numerous cases reported by female athletes/players in recent times like that of a gymnast when he manhandled the player and as a consequence both were suspended based on the CCTV footage.
An incident which received wide publicity involved 8 Indian female boxers, including junior boxers. These boxers were compelled to go through pregnancy tests prior to their participation in world championships. Not only were these tests a gross violation but was against the rules of “International Boxing Association”.
The risk of sexual harassment and sexual vulnerability arises from a combination of many factors like weak organizational control within sports clubs, dominating attitudes of coaches, as well as factors like insecurity and the high ambition of athletes. The SAI & the NSFs need to do much more and take effective steps towards the implementation of the guidelines under the Sports Code and the duties enjoined upon them under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013.
Literature from every part of the world has innumerable examples of writings on women and their exploitation, whether societal, cultural, economic or political. The desire of women for true freedom is beautifully summed up in the following lines of Song of an African Women’
“I have only one request. I do not ask for money, although I have need of it, I do not ask for meat…. I have only one request, and all I ask is that you remove the road block from my path”.