Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Women's Bathabile Dlamini has said the country fully supported South Africa's star athlete, Caster Semenya, and lashed out at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for its "colonial ideas" of the African female body.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Dlamini lauded government's efforts to support Semenya through her legal challenge of an IAAF ruling that demands certain athletes reduce natural testosterone levels through an artificial chemical processes.

"Women bear the brunt of discrimination in society. This discrimination is given life through institutionalised patriarchy in schools, universities, places of worship, in the workplace, and in the home. 

"Sexism also rears its head on the sports field where we are expected to accept pay disparities for male and female teams, the relegation of female sporting codes to second-tier events not worthy of coverage on television etc. The professionalism of women athletes also continues to be questioned because this goes against deeply ingrained ideas of the roles of women in society," said the minister. 

"On the rugby field, a two-metre, 140kg player is celebrated for his stature, strength, athletic skills and ability to dominate an opponent. In basketball, a 2.1 metre player is marvelled at for his ability to reach higher. In soccer a striker’s height is also admired through his ability to win the ball in the air. The same applies for male athletes whose strength above their opponents is seen to be hard-fought gains through hard work and perseverance. However, when it comes to female athletes, society seemingly places limits on what the female body should look like and how they should perform."

"Female athletes must constantly suffer emotional abuse through absorbing comments like ‘She runs like a man’. These preconceived notions of what the female body should look like or how female athletes should perform is deeply sexist, because it has infiltrated the entire structure of society."

Dlamini said the global north constantly attempted to control the global south and in particular the body of "the African woman" to fit in with their own colonial ideas of the body as a site preserved for fertility.

"We must remain resolute in our efforts to fight sexism, colonialism, and xenophobia, irrespective of the form it takes. The department calls on all South Africans and global citizens to proclaim #HandsOffCaster," said Dlamini.

African News Agency (ANA)