By F. B. Adeyanju
The low involvement of women in sports is not due to the lack of interest in sports by women. It is due to the long history of direct, and indirect systemic forms of discrimination and stereo-typing as well as many other problems that women have to contend with. If Nigeria is to fulfil her aspiration of being amongst the top sporting countries of the world, the issue of women participation in sports must be successfully addressed.
PROBLEMS INFLUENCING WOMEN'S PARTICI PATION IN SPORTS
Attempts at promoting active involvement of Nigerian women in, especially competitive sports, have had to contend with several problems. They include the following:
Psycho-social and cultural factors which excert pressure on women through the immediate family, community, religion, media, peer groups and other sources of socialisation to reinforce expected behaviour and teaching of gender roles. Sports is an exemplary activity which focuses attention on the gender influence by allowing for the comparison of innate against learned factors. Sports, tradition ally, is defined as a male domain. Excellence in sports is an attribute cherished for men whilst it is seen as a distraction for women rather than an ele ment of healthy living.
Inadequate education and awareness by women about the benefits of participating in sports. Physical education is often not popular among the females in schools.
Physiological Myths in Nigeria, like in many other parts of the world, many still believe that phys ical exercise by women has a detrimental effect on their reproductive organs and that women lose their femininity through active participation in sports. Religion and religious attitude, as regards the free.association of men and women and the expo sure of parts of the body, especially that of women, is a major constraint to female participation in sports.
Media Coverage of female sporting events is rather shallow and infrequent compared to that of men. The media, by their mode of coverage and presentation of women sports, tend to reinforce existing societal perceptions about female partici pation in sports.
The Politics and Power Use in Sport consti tute a significant constraint to women participation in sports. This is because men wield a great deal of power over the develppment and management of female sports. Moreover, men constitute a large presence in female sports management and admin istration. The input by women in the formulation of policies for the development of female sports is, therefore, insignificant. This is also true in the allo cation and use of resources to implement policies and programmes designed for the development of women sports.
FUTURE PROSPECTS The above problems notwithstanding, like their counterparts worldwide, Nigerian women are now participating in a wide range of sports. Nigerian women have made inroads into athletics and into such traditional male sports as soccer, combat sports (such as judo) and where musculature is important, like weight lifting. The low image of the female athlete dominant in the early twentieth cen tury is gradually fading in Nigeria. It is being replaced by a more dynamic, self confident and truly athletic image of a talented and accomplished athlete.
Nigerian women are constantly breaking the fetters with which they had historically been bound; and their skills, speed and endurance are continu ally improving. Names like Mary Tombiri, Fatima Yusuf, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Chioma Ajunwa, Bose Kafo and Falilat Ogunkoya Ocheku, are household names due to the fact that they are accomplished world-class athletes. Their gender is no longer the issue.
Nigerian women have continued to boost the country's international image by their achievements at continental and global competitions where they have won medals for the country. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Nigeria's female athletes won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. The first individual gold medial won by Nigeria after 38 years of Olympic participation was by the female long jumper, Chioma Ajunwa.
The sweet memories of soccer display with skill and class by Nigerian female teams remain long after the games. As analysis of gold medals won by Nigerians in All the African Games since inception shows, while Nigerian men have won 28 gold medals, their female counterparts have won 57 medals (Audu, 1999). In football the female nation al team, the Falcons, have become a major force not only in Africa, where they are perennial champi ons, but also globally. The Falcons participated in the three Female World Cup Finals in 1991, 1995 and 1999. The Falcons based on their performance at the 1999 World Cup Finals, qualified for the finals of the female football competition at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in Australia. Despite the major impediments that hinder the involvement of the women in sports, the future of women in sports in the country is bright. The talent, commitment and professionalism that women can contribute to the development of Nigeria through sports are enormous. Bringing women into the mainstream of sports is an important end in itself and a key to improving the quality of life of every one. Sustainable human development is not possible without the full and equal participation of women. The empowerment of women is an imper ative for national development. We in Nigeria must, now more than ever before, adopt a culture and structure that provide equal access and opportunity to all Nigerians, female or male.
In pursuit of gender equality in the field of sports in Nigeria, government at all levels, in col laboration with relevant international agencies, women advocacy groups, NGOs, sports associa tions and other stakeholders, should create an enabling environment for unfettered participation by women in sports and its management in Nigeria. Similarly, those factors which militate against women, especially in the areas of leadership, poli cies, structure, programmes, training, resource allo cation, education, training, publicity, welfare and health issues, must be eliminated. The attainment of gender equality in sports will afford Nigeria the opportunity to actualise the vast potential that Nigerian women constitute.
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Adeyanju, F. B. (1998) Mobilising Women for Effective Participation in Vision 2010 Sports Programmes Implementation. A paper presented at NAPHER seminar.
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