The gender gap in sports remains a big concern as women say it fails to portray gender issues fairly and accurately. The disparities showing how women are marginalized in sports are multi-layered. The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project revealed that women makeup only 24 percent of the people heard, read about, or seen in the news.
“Mentorship is really hard when few women are involved yet it is important to upcoming female athletes in dealing with bullying and discrimination, issues that can impede full participation in sports,” said Immaculate Nalwadda, the president of the Gymnastics Association.
Inequality is not unique to Uganda. The African Volleyball Confederation (CAVB), for instance, has a membership of 54 countries only three — Morocco, Uganda and Zambia are led by female presidents.
The case of Uganda
“Certain people still believe men should occupy top positions. The executives and boards still carry the same imbalance,” Hadijah Namanda, the president of the Uganda Volleyball Federation (UVF), says.
The National Council of Sports (NCS), a body that regulates sports in Uganda, has 49 employees among whom only 16 are women. The most high-profile woman at NCS is Shadiah Babu Nakamaanya, the legal officer.
Among the 53 national sports associations recognised in Uganda, only five are headed by women. Volleyball is led by Namanda, Makerere University Sports Tutor Peninah Kabenge is the head of University Sports while Susan Anek heads netball. Lydia Gloria Sanyu Dhamuzungu, a veteran player is Hockey’s president since 2016 with Fatumah Namubiru, a committee member, the other female on the 11-man executive. Handball is surprisingly led by two women, Sheila Richardson Agonzibwa, who has been in power for 19 years and Sauda Babirye the General Secretary. Nalwadda replaced Fharuk Baluku in February at the helm of gymnastics. Shooting and kabaddi are yet to get the NCS nod.
Some women fill the role of secretary. World Athletics council member Beatrice Ayikoru, is for athletics while Motorsport has Leila Mayanja Blick so is VX Uganda with Pamela Nakirya Kungu. Others are Rollball with Brenda Kitimbo and Baseball and Softball’s Esther Nakabugo. Squash has Eseza Byakika.
Namanda cites lack of mentoring by fellow women as the main reason for this gap.
“Sports loses many would be capable leaders after they stop playing competitively yet they would be able to transit into such roles as coaching, refereeing and administration to address the gender gap,” she says.
Gender inequality does not only deny women opportunities but it has a big impact on the equality of the players. According to Namanda, the boys will be more to play and have a vision of taking up leadership roles in administration, coaching and refereeing because they have role models to inspire them.
“I believe men might not understand how certain female issues affect performance and how to handle such occurrences at critical moments. Many youth female teams are coached by men and the young women might not be comfortable sharing female-related issues with these coaches,” Namanda adds.
In attempting to achieve Sustainable Development Goal five, which focuses on gender equality and women/girls empowerment, sports needs to be holistic and participatory.
There are no policies at national level and in federations that push for filling the gap in gender.
The NCS has no policy addressing gender inequality in sports. “I believe in the power of systems. If we can affect our government systems, there is a probability of making a lasting change,” Namanda, the first international volleyball referee in Uganda in 2010 explains.
She suggests that federations need to hold all-girls championships to foster participation with emphasis on trophies being the same size for both genders. Another item that must be worked on is having the matching cash prize. Football has embraced most of these ideas. The female footballer of the year gets the same car as the male winner while all-girls championships are held at different levels.
Second rate citizens
Equal pay among sportsmen remains a myth even in developed countries. It is worse in Uganda. When Fufa, for instance, rewarded the men’s Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup winning squad and KCCA FC recently, the women team that finished fourth at the 2016 Cecafa Women Championship, was ignored. Majidah Nantanda, who was the coach expressed her displeasure on Facebook.
“This is also a polite reminder as well to anyone concerned that can we have it (allowances) now during this crisis please?,” Nantanda wrote on May 6.
Namanda says that even though inequality in payment of the different gender cuts across globally, the media should show more interest.
“The women’s football team is playing excellent soccer but the publicity of their games is so low compared to the hype of the men’s team. This needs to change and work on people’s attitudes to be interested in the women games,” she adds.
Daily Monitor’s, Regina Nalujja, is the only woman in a 15-man team of sports writers, opined about the inequality saying: “When the Cranes bowed out of 2019 Afcon in the round of 16, they received in excess of Shs75m yet the She Cranes that played in the Netball World Cup where they finished seventh, received peanuts” Nalujja said. At the tournament, impressive goal attack Stella Oyella won three man-of-the match awards at the tournament. Players were rewarded with Shs10m in bonuses!
The media is struggling to accommodate its women too. Pheona Namiiro, the head of sports at UBC, is probably the highest ranking woman in the newsroom. Namiiro wears multiple hats when it comes to women issues. As a student at Lugazi Mixed, she represented her school in volleyball to the East African games, works as an analyst at UBC TV and sports host on Star TV and has been involved in the women sports movement since teaming up with renowned women sports advocate, Carole Oglesby.
“Women in sports is a personal mission. Women are always opposed and I have grown up knowing this picture against women is not healthy,” Namiiro says.
“Sports projects have to be sensitive to address all kinds of diversities. All leaders must work towards empowering women to be competent in leadership,” she adds.
To Nalujja, the inequality has taught her to work hard in order to prove her relevance.
The 2015 Global Media Monitoring report found that only 4 per cent of sports media content is dedicated to women’s sport while only 12 per cent of sports news is presented by women. Additionally, women represent only 7 per cent of sportspeople portrayed in the media. Only 12 per cent of sports stories are reported by women. The lack of women commentators, limits platforms for women to express themselves.
Sports journalists’ body, Uspa has Irene Deborah Nannyonjo as the highest-ranking woman in the position of assistant General Secretary. Four women sit on the 15-man executive committee.
Nannyonjo, also a lawyer, advocates for women to take up editorial roles. “Who will understand women when they face exploitation and violence? Remember the case of former athletics coach Peter Wemali [he was accused of sexually abusing female athletes in 2015]? Media is a key player in the fight against inequality and if there are few women, it robs them of economic empowerment too,” Nannyonjo says. But the story was prominently covered by a male writer, Sande Bashaija, in the Daily Monitor.
Between July 2017 and June 2018, Uspa voted only two female athletes, Shida Leni and Penihah Nakabo among the outstanding monthly sports personalities as well as two women teams. The remaining eight slots were taken by men with Joshua Cheptegei winning it thrice in that period.
There are efforts aimed at empowering women in sport even though their role remains nascent.
“Gender equity in sport is about treating everyone fairly and providing opportunities for all, at all levels, from the committee through to the spectator,” Namanda explains.