Johannesburg, 31 August - From October 28 to November 11, Banyana Banyana, the South African women's soccer team will take part in the African Women's Championships (AWC) that will be hosted by Equatorial Guinea. They are the only southern African women's soccer team participating at the tournament, having recently come back from the London Olympics.
Considering what Banyana Banyana have achieved so far, one wonders why they are not given full support as is the case with Bafana Bafana; why the country does not have a professional women's football league; and last but not least, why female soccer players are paid less compared to their male counterparts?
Sport is business and a profession. It has become an economic activity for both sports team owners and sportspersons. For instance, Lionel Messi, Argentinian international soccer player and Maria Sharapova, a Russian professional tennis player are the world's highest paid male and female sportspersons. They cart home annual salaries of US$43.5 and US$25 million respectively. Sport has become a profession for them as well as a source of livelihood.
As an economic activity, authorities should bear in mind that sports contribute to economic growth of any given country, both at national and individual levels. This means that denying women full support and participation in sports is equivalent to denying them full participation in an economic activity.
For Southern African countries, denying women a fair opportunity or underpaying them because of their sex is a clear violation of their economic rights, contrary to the 2008 SADC protocol on Gender and Development that stresses the importance of women's economic empowerment.
A June 2012 South African Women Football Association's (SAFWA) case with the South African Football Association's (SAFA) proves how patriarchy deters sportswomen. SAFWA lodged a complaint through South Africa's Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) regarding gender disparities at SAFA, the soccer governing body. Among other things, SAWFA called on SAFA to address the discrepancy in the pay grade of women soccer players to match that of their male counterparts and a fair representation of women in SAFA's leadership.
Responding to the complaint, SAFA spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi said it is "unrealistic" to put women and men soccer players at par. "Women's soccer is amateur, you can't compare the two. Men's soccer is a multimillion-rand industry that draws big crowds and sponsorship. This is not just the case in soccer but across all sporting codes", he said.
CGE's investigations found a huge disparity in funding for women's football - both within SAFA's own budget and the sourcing of sponsorship for women's football. Due to funding challenges for women's soccer, South Africa does not have a professional women's football league.
On the contrary, Bafana Bafana continues to receive much publicity and support and yet the team hasn't delivered in crucial competitive matches. The team recently failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations and will only participate in the competition because the country will host the tournament just as it did in the 2010 World Cup.
Banyana Banyana are not alone. The Malawi Queens, a national netball team is ranked number one in Africa and fifth in the world. Sadly, the team does not receive similar attention as the Flames - the men's national football team get. While the government and the corporate sector are more willing to sponsor the Flames, very few do so whenever the Queens call for help.
As the AWC draw near, society needs to look into sport and how the field can be more accommodating to women. According to media reports, the female national soccer team of Nigeria, ranked number one in Africa, have been a dominant force in African women's football for almost two decades. They have been winning the AWC since its inception in 1991 except in 2008 when they lost to Equatorial Guinea.
Is there a secret behind the Falcons' success? Yes!
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) continues to put in place deliberate measures to promote women's soccer. The country's soccer governing body allocates a quota to women and they are part of the decision making process. This has enhanced the team's success and the Falcons' continue performing better.
The underrepresentation of women in sports disciplines across the globe clearly demonstrates attitudes men have about women. Much as men have dominated most sporting activities for a longtime, the time has come for women in sports to be given attention and resources. Attitudes such as "the transformation [for gender equality in sports] would not happen overnight" raised by Chimhavi cannot take women in sports anywhere. The time for gender equality in sports is now!
As a journalist and gender activist, I feel the media in the region has a crucial role to play. It is high time the media begins to set the agenda by featuring women in sports on the front-back pages of their publications.
Further, I believe that there are female sports fans out there who can do better sports analyses and the media should start seeking their views too. Such efforts will encourage more women to participate in sports and catapult more women into sports leadership positions including becoming sports journalists.
The NFF presents a very good case on how special measures would assist to uplift women in sports. Hopefully, sports governing bodies in the region will learn and replicate NFF's case and invest in women in sports.
Daud Kayisi is the Gender and Media Diversity Centre Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on gender, sport and the 2012 London Olympics, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.