Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has spoken about the importance of men supporting the cause of empowering women in sport. Photo: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

The traditional African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child can also be applied to the way we empower women, not only in sport but also in life.

It is a notion that it requires a communal effort to raise well-balanced and responsible human beings who can contribute to society in a positive way.

But the reality of life is we often leave burning issues that do not fit into our frame of reference or core beliefs up to others to fight for.

Sport in is a quagmire for South African women where they will be lucky to get half the support of their male counterparts.

We tend to limit the girl child in what she may or may not do due to the normal constructs of a patriarchal society.

If the average girl child wants to play cricket, she is only allowed to share the joys of the sport up to Grade 3 in certain schools.

This week, South Africa’s top road cyclist Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio spoke about the importance of men supporting the cause of empowering women in sport.

“There is this United Nations campaign called HeForShe and it basically says woman empowerment and equality is just as much a man’s responsibility as much as it is a women’s,” Moolman-Pasio said.

“That I guess is emulated or shown in the relationship I have with my husband and how supportive he has been.

“So you need someone, a grounding force to be able to help women to take that next step.”

Instead of women being uplifted in the sport, they are often subjected to unacceptable or even criminal behaviour from people who are supposed to protect and nurture them.

Despite research and statistics about the scope of the predatory behaviour by coaches and sports people in South Africa, there is anecdotal evidence of disturbing behaviour by supposed mentors.

Girls Only Project, a non-profit company headed by sports psychologist Dr Kirsten van Heerden, will conduct research about the issues they face in the sporting world in South Africa.

In a sample of 2000 high school girls, close to five percent reported they had been sexually harassed by a male coach or administrator.

It effectively means one girl in a hockey squad of 20, five girls in a netball tournament of 10 teams, or 25 girls in a sports festival of 500 girls are subjected to some sort of sexual harassment.

Van Heerden points out that some international studies have found that elite female athletes are more likely to be harassed or abused by their coaches or management team than recreational athletes.

Former tennis Grand Slam winner and coach Bob Hewitt is one of the high profile examples of mentors not only overstepping the boundaries of a healthy coach-athlete relationship but finding themselves guilty of criminal intent.

The relationship between athlete and coach in general is a fine balance, but the case of Moolman-Pasio and a few other athletes provides hope for women in sport.

“One of the biggest obstacles facing women and equality in the world is that women lack self-belief, so it takes someone believing in a woman for them to start believing in themselves,” Moolman-Pasio said.


Saturday Star

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