Athletes, who happen to be women

The Rio olympics have raised a lot of social media discussion on sexism and the way women’s achievements are reported and generally spoken of. The media still diminishes the achievements of female athletes – consistently. American Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won bronze in the trap shooting, was in the press coverage referred to only in relation to her famous husband. Another athlete’s husband-coach was credited by a reporter to be responsible for her performance. Another gold medalist with a world record was a secondary news under a male silver-medalist from the same day.

In the Finnish media, the focus in the past days has been on the woman who’s the only medalist for us so far. A boxer with a story. She had only been training boxing for the fun of it, until at the ripe age of 28 and with 2 kids, her coach awoke her passion and she started taking the sport seriously. Disturbing was to see comments on her story undermining the stunning achievement, and the sarcastic requests to highlight men who are fathers as well. Of course mother and fatherhood are equally important but when talking about athletes, becoming a mother is a completely different challenge than becoming a father. Yet, it seems it’s not clear to all that a woman’s achievement and success story could for once be featured in media, instead of that of a man’s.

And what on earth is all this talk about women athletes hair-dos and make-up? Honestly it’s horrible that female athletes have to compete in their looks as well, as if that was more important than their actual performance. I’ve heard reporters in Rio have been actually having discussions on the gymnastics make-ups?

I’m glad the global sporting event is gaining attention to gender roles and equality, and hope the discussions continue past the games and beyond sports. Because in pretty much every field in life women are still lesser-valued than men.

In my current job, as we organize large international conferences, gender equality is a difficult topic. Namely, when inviting speakers our team wants to achieve full gender balance but struggles event after event in achieving the target. We have a certain level of seniority as a guideline for accepting a speaker, and it’s clearly how there are far fewer women in such roles than there are men. There are of course many brilliant women and excellent public speakers as well, but still too few to easily achieve 50-50 speaker balance from both genders. Only panels where all invited organizations / companies straight-forwardly nominate women are panels where gender equality or women empowerment is being discussed. And these are panels where we desperately want men to speak in.

At least, as Rio reporting failures and the responses to those are showing, world is slowly waking up to this. It’s no longer acceptable and “passable” to diminish women’s achievements or give the credit of their success to the men in their lives. Social media, keep it up. We all have a role to play – it ‘s never a funny joke to be sexist.

 

 

 

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The Hell in a Paradise

Last friday I came across an article written by Imrana Jalal, originally posted as an ADB blog, about the acceptance of violence against women, by women. In her text she explains how 81% of women in East-Timor believe that husbands have a right to beat their wives. Women, thinking that violence against women is acceptable. That a husband, beating his wife, is not necessarily doing wrong.

I’ve been dwelling on this all weekend long and it still makes me sick in stomach and gets tears in my eyes.

It’s a custom, how things always have been. Husband on East-Timor have always been beating their wives, and daughters are brought up in that environment. Where there’s no alternative model existing, the traditions are not questioned.

Jalal writes about other examples in the Pacific Islands as well, showcasing how small island nations without much influence from outside can develop extremely unequally. Many developed nations also have high violence rates, often domestic too, but what really struck me with the Pacific island statistics was the fact that women find the beatings justified, acceptable.

That can only be changed by education. A new model needs to be introduced – for men to learn non-violent ways of expressing themselves and for women to understand their equal worth. Children need to be taught that violence is never an answer and never acceptable. The understanding of how violence is never acceptable, can’t be taken for granted. It needs to be taught.

I do believe behavioral patterns can be changed and wish the report on these horrifying statistics enables international organizations to introduce education programs in the Pacific Islands. Changing the mindset of people won’t happen overnight but it can be achieved. There certainly is an urgency and need for trying. I hope the next generation won’t grow up in accepting a fist on a face as an argument.