Did you know that the goal of gender equality is enshrined in the Olympic Charter?
At the 2016 Olympics, a number of remarkable women have captured the world’s attention with their record-breaking achievements. However, the attention was not so much focused on their performance but rather on the comparison with their male counterpart.
For example, American gymnast Simone Biles, kept getting compared to male athletes who aren’t gymnasts being routinely called the “Michael Jordan of gymnastics,” and the “next Michael Phelps.” In response, she declared “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Swimmer Katie Ledecky won gold and broke her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle yet, somehow Phelps got the bigger headline for a silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly.
The Role of Sport in Addressing Gender Issues
Women’s treatment in sport has always been a manifestation of wider gender inequality and, as sports evolved and professionalized, became self-perpetuating. Even in sports there is a gender pay gap.
The Role of Sport in Challenging and Transforming Gender Norms
Although the participation of women and girls in sport remains largely imbalanced when compared to participation among men and boys, it has been proved on many occasions that the consistent and continued participation of women and girls in sport has had a major impact on achieving gender equality in certain contexts.
According to the Economic and Social Research Institute (2013): “during the top two years of primary education, participation is high for both boys and girls taking part in either extra-curricular sport at school, or extra-school sport, with little gender difference between the two. For boys, there is 89% participation, and for girls 86%. However, it is during the post-primary years that sports participation by both boys and girls falls consistently, with the decline for girls particularly marked. By the time of sixth year, around 66% of boys and 56% of girls participate in sport.”
Research conducted on the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) programme reveal that girls’ participation in the MYSA football programme appears to be related to the way male football players perceive their roles. Boys in the programme are observed to have adopted a positive and supportive attitude towards their female counterparts; in this case, participation in the programme has become synonymous with being aware of gendered roles and norms.
The Role of Sport in Creating Opportunities for women’s and girls’ Leadership
In developing countries, some sport programmes provide women and girls with opportunities to develop leadership skills. For example, the Moving the Goal Posts Kilifi programme (MTGK) in Kenya provides opportunities for participants to compete and train, as well as participate directly in developing the organisation and overseeing governance. In addition, exposure to international competition adds a boost to public recognition of the skills that women and girls develop through sport.
Finally, there is global consensus that gender dimensions within sporting policies remain marginal. International organizations, sport federations and committees have agreed to work towards the objective of promoting the integration of gender issues within sporting policies, and endeavour to raise awareness of the importance of guaranteeing a safe and healthy environment for women involved in sport.
 Northern Ireland Assembly, Research and Information Service. http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2014/culture_arts_leisure/4414.pdf