This is the fifth in a multi-part series on women in sport. Chapter 1 explored the early days of the Olympic movement, Chapter 2 grapples with the struggles of sexual identity, Chapter 3 looks at the influence of the media on gender views and Chapter 4 Part 1 and Part 2 discusses the sexualisation of women’s sport.
Chapter 5: The struggles of women in sport in the East
The movement for equality in sport in the Indian subcontinent is a long way behind the rest of the world.
The struggle of a female sportsperson goes far deeper than their counterparts in the West face. To understand this, we need to go to the root causes of the problems faced today.
Ever since independence in 1947, India has faced the challenge of female feticide, female infanticide and selective abortions based on the sex of the baby.
The problems reached a climax in the 1980s when the sex ratio of the country plummeted to an all-time low, with some states recording figures of 650 females per 100 males which forced the government to bring in the ‘Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act’ in 1994, under which it was illegal to determine the sex of the child before birth.
To bring it into context, the law is still in force and even today it is illegal to determine the sex of the child before birth.
Now, when a girl manages to survive her way through the above-mentioned problems and decides to professionally pursue sport, the first hurdle in her way is her family.
In almost every case, the family is against a female pursuing sport because it goes against the societal norms. Can the family be blamed? Not entirely. This is where the society and it’s attitude comes into play. Even if the family allows the female to go ahead and pursue sport, the family has to continue to live in a society which looks down upon such a thing. They are the ones who are subject to taunts, pressure and, in some cases, even eviction.
Let’s say that the family and the society do not create any hurdles, the next challenge on the road is security. Especially in the rural areas where a majority of rape and sexual assault cases go unreported, the major concern for the family remains the security of their child.
In most areas, it is usually not safe for females to go outside after sunset. In such circumstances, basic necessities like training become difficult to go through with.
Another argument used very often by parents is population. India has a population of over 1.3 billion people. Using cricket as an example, the fact that India has so many people pursuing the sport professionally does not mean they can field more than 11 players at a time, which means it is progressively more difficult for the people on the fringes to get a look in.
This is not the best argument to convince a girl not to pursue sport but when used by parents, it can be both demoralising and convincing for the child to give up on it.
Lastly, sporting infrastructure in India is pathetic for every sport other than cricket. There is a severe lack funding and some associations can’t even provide athletes with basic necessities such as food.
This works conveniently against someone looking to pursue sport professionally. The fact that you will barely have any money even if you get to the top is sometimes enough to convince someone to give up on their dream, because achieving the dream does not reap enough reward.
Female athletes continue to face an uphill challenge far greater than any faced by their male compatriots. Indian government, both local and national, need to sort out the basic requirements before we even begin to consider the issues that are plaguing women in the West.
Featured photograph/Wikipedia Commons/Harrias