16 days of activism: My struggle as a woman sports writer

By Wynona Louw Time of article published Dec 2, 2019

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As a woman reporting on sport, I am very grateful for the Don’t Look Away campaign, and I am proud to be a part of it. 

Surely no South African needs any reminding of the kind of treatment women get on a daily basis. Surely nobody needs any briefing on matters such as gender-based violence. It features in some or other news feed at any time of day. 

Gender-based violence and the snippets thereof have become as common and as expected as a daily weather report. It’s everywhere. It’s prominent. And it seems to show no signs of stopping. 

Where does it end? No one has the exact answer to that question. But as for where this problem actually begins, now that’s a branch with no single root. As a female reporting on rugby, I have first-hand experience. 

Sure I’ve never had a guy walk up to me and physically disagree with my opinion on the sport, but sometimes prejudice and discrimination don’t need a physical hand print. “What gives her the right to have an opinion on this player?” “What gives her the right to question this coach?” “Who is she, at what level did she even play the game?” “She must be backing this player because she’s tied to him in some way.” Those are just some of the stupid and sexist remarks I’ve had to deal with on social media, while my inbox has also seen its fair share of hate mail.

Yes, it’s not everybody, there are those who accept my work the same way they’d accept and appreciate a man’s. But for every email or comment of praise I get after writing an opinion piece, for example, three more questioning my credibility or my “right” to have an opinion about rugby follow.

And sometimes those question marks don’t even come with a veil. Sometimes it’s as blatant as a “go write about netball, girl”. 

The fact that I still get those kinds of comments in 2019 is shocking. 

I realise it’s not physical violence. That’s not a man actually laying a hand on you. But it’s still discrimination. And everything we as a nation are currently dealing with starts somewhere. 

I have seldom seen or heard of a male colleague having those kinds of senseless comments spewed at him. And on the few occasions that I have seen their credibility questioned, or their authority, or their opinion on the game, it would be based on affiliation to a team, not their gender. 

And it goes further than that. Can normal South Africans, those who don’t work in sports, even name one of our national rugby Fifteens or Sevens Women’s players? Do they give a damn about the fact that the Women’s Sevens team have been denied entry to the 2020 Olympics because they supposedly don’t have a realistic chance of winning a medal? Yet Sacoc are sending the SA Under-23 mens soccer team, far from the best in Africa, who qualified via a penalty shoot-out, to Tokyo. 

Do they care about the fact that the Protea Women’s Cricket team reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2017, while the men crashed out in the group stages in 2019? I bet they don’t, because in this day and age men’s participation in sports is still considered superior to that of women, never mind results. 

After all, girls aren’t supposed to play rugby, or any male-dominated sport for that matter, right? Salary discrepancies are everywhere. Limited or non-existent television broadcasts for women’s sports are real. There’s just no equality. But that’s just sports. That’s just your standard discrimination that sadly we’ve come to accept. 

Again, gender-based violence is something else. But everything starts somewhere. It starts with women, in any field, having to prove themselves 10 times more than a man. It starts with girls being told they shouldn’t participate in a certain sport because “it’s not for them”. It’s starts with women not being regarded as equal to men when it comes to their profession. It all starts somewhere. No wonder, we’re still asking, where will it end? 

* Wynona Louw is a rugby writer for Independent Media.

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