Empowering women through sports

Prof (Dr) Meinam Binota
Sports is an avenue where the masculine identity is being questioned and recreated. Sports provides an opportunity to redefine the masculine identities as strength, aggressiveness, competitiveness. It makes us reconsider attributing these identities to male only. Such gendered ideologies are being resisted and even challenged in the sphere of sports. We can remember an event that took place during FIFA World Cup 2018. In Iran, women are not allowed to watch the matches. After much protests, they watched the Iranian match against Spain in Azadi Stadium in Tehran on a Giant TV screen. So, discrimination against women is resisted through Sports in two ways
- By participating in Sports as Players and
- By using Sports as a medium.
Manipur is one such State of India where discrimination against women is highly prevalent. Since time immemorial women of Manipur have been living with mismatch. The role of women is undeniably huge and still they are not assigned their due shares and status in respect of socio-political and economic arena.
However, women have to tell a different story in the field of sports. In the State of Manipur, women dominate sports over men. It is substantiated when we simply look at the Awards and Achievements in sports by Manipuris. The Khel Ratana Award has been conferred upon three sportspersons so far. All of them are women-(Mary Kom, Kunjarani and Mirabai Chanu) and also of the 20 Arjuna Awrad Awardees in Manipur, 15 of them are Women. They are (Kunjarani, Tingongleima, Mary Kom, Surjalata, Anita Chanu, Tombi Devi, Sarita Devi, Sandhyarani, Bombyla, Sonia Chanu, Sanamacha etc) . So, Sports is an Institution that truly empowers women. It is a vivid example of empowering women through Sports. They inspire many young women/girls in the country and inspires future generations to empower themselves/women selves by pursuing their chosen field with passion. It can lead to a new road map development of gender issues of our Nation.  
Throughout history, the world of sports has largely been thought of as a male-dominated arena that relegated women to the sidelines, but as the general narrative of a woman’s ‘place’ in society has evolved, so too has the narrative regarding a woman’s place in sports.
The Women in Sport Movement is becoming a global phenomenon; and rightly so as women comprise half of the global population. Change has been slow, however, and many long-standing traditions remain. There is great potential for the status quo to be challenged with change at the systemic level.
The women’s sport landscape is evolving at a rapid pace, as is indicated by the large number of professional women’s leagues that have emerged in recent years and the growth in the number of female athletes competing internationally. Women and girls face many barriers which constrain their participation. These barriers are being addressed through policy and programming intervention from Government and other relevant stakeholders. The Indian Government and commercial stakeholders have indicated interest in the women’s sports agenda, from both a commercial and mass participation standpoint. Yet, mass sport participation amongst Indian women and girls remains constrained and opportunities exist for growth and change. In order for change to occur in the female sports participation landscape, in India, participation barriers and opportunities for growth require attention and action.
Women have faced this inequality in every domain, including relationships, work, education and sports. The male dominated society barely gave women a considerable part in it. In the last century, a substantial change in the perspective of Indian society has been seen and a major movement towards gender equality has taken place. There are a lot of social barriers like poverty, parental pressure, commonly held age-old beliefs etc. which govern a women’s life since childhood. Due to these reasons, the daughters of the family are held back from the outside world.
Gender discrimination reduces the amount of talent available in a specific field . Women today have moved a long way in the journey towards equal rights and opportunities, they are still judged and their talents and achievements not celebrated as that of men. Urban areas have some women taking up the sporting career whereas villages have a  long way to go. The unfair beliefs and traditions embedded in the society and the age-old belief of gender biasness is one of the foremost reasons which has dawned and governed the life of many women.
Women represent half of the population yet are treated as a minority group in sport; however, this minority group refuse to remain or be silenced and are making themselves more visible. The status quo needs to be challenged with disruption and change at the systemic level required. Compare the media attention given to men’s teams of cricket or hockey with that of women’s team.
The problem of this gender inequality has a serious impact on female performance on all levels of participation. Women are considered to have an evitable duty of looking after the household and children as a part of their daily chore, which lead to much less leisure time left for them as compared to men. This amount of household work also tends to make them reluctant to engage and commit to any other kind of physical activity.  Family outlook is the key. Phogat sisters wouldn’t have been able to make my country proud if their father hadn’t encouraged them.
The media thereby plays a very vicious role in informing and changing the opinion of people towards women sports. Women were given negligible amount of coverage in the previous days, though the coverage has increased over decades but it is a long way away from equal coverage to both men and women. Though our country has a lot of leading sports women, the media fails to reach out to this population.
The attitude of coaches in encouraging men and women is different. Men are pushed harder to perform by coaches, officials and organizers as compared to women. Though changes are being noticed yet women are under-treated and provided lower incentives when compared to the other gender. Use of press releases and local media for women sports can give them media; coverage which will inspire and motivate other girls and women to dive further into sports.
Indian sports women are excelling at international level but as female sports persons. Majority of women sports persons end up having to say goodbye to their career after childbirth. Even though we have examples of women like Mary Kom who excelled even after having started a family, but in general most sports women have to say goodbye to their career after starting a family. As a society we have to encourage women to continue even after starting a family too.
By not providing women equal support as a society for pursuing their passion in sports, we are closing doors for them to excel at National and international level. If we look at the medal tally of India at Olympics or any other international sporting event we find that women are making us proud, a greater participation of women in sports can convert into bigger medal tally at these sporting events provided they are also provided the desired support.
There is need for dedicated sporting academy for women and also corporates sponsoring the women athletes and teams would help. Corporates through CSR could set up sports infrastructure in villages where girls hardly have any access to sports infrastructure.  This will go a long way in not only bringing out more sporting talent of women but also add to the overall fitness and confidence of women.
Educational institutions should give special scholarships to girls/young women pursuing sports. We need to work towards encouraging women towards sports as a career. Platforms like National Women’s Parliament provide an opportunity for women role models to share their experience with young girls. This platform is providing all stakeholders to discuss and debate the various aspects of the women’s issue.
With adequate support and encouragement women sports persons have the capability to take the Nation’s medal tally to the top. We all should join hands to support them.
I would like to compliment the efforts Shri Rahul Karad for creating a platform like this for women empowerment. I have been told that the first edition of National Women’s Parliament was held in 2017 at Amravathi in Andhra Pradesh with the active support of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly and Andhra Pradesh Government. I am glad to know that thousands of girls, women, mothers and sisters participated in this Parliament and were addressed by a galaxy of eminent speakers. I am happy to be a part of this movement and I am confident that this Parliament will achieve all its goals and strengthen the cause of women empowerment and boost the participation of women in policy making at various levels.
This Platform of NWP is also supported by the Cofounder and Managing Trustee of Mukul Madhav Foundation and the Director of Finolex industries Ltd. Ms Ritu Chhabriya Ji, the Chief of the Organising Committee of NWP, who has vast experience of working for the under privileged and marginalised sections of the society including lakhs of women.

(The writer is Chairperson Manipur State Commission for Women and this lecture was delivered at the National Women’s Parliament)