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Women In Sports: South Africa Needs To Do Better

Women In Sports: South Africa Needs To Do Better

by: Mamaili Mamaila - 2 October 2018

Sexism, Unequal Pay And Sexual Harassment At The Heart Of Their Challenges

Banyana Banyana defeated Cameroon on the 22nd of August at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth, in order to win the 2018 COSAFA Women Championship title. It was striker, Refiloe Jane’s brace which managed to clinch them the title for a second successive time.

This win comes in spite of their recent frustrations with the South African Football Association not paying the team on time. The winners of the, “best national team” at this year’s CAF Awards will also be looking to keep the same momentum for the Women’s World Cup qualifiers and Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the near future.

The local sub-faction of black twitter which is widely known as, “Footy Twitter” broke down in all possible directions earlier this year when student leader, Naledi Chirwa, questioned the glaring differences that exist between the men and women who have significantly dedicated their lives to the beautiful game.

In a recent interview on Thabiso Mosia’s, ‘Sport On’ show on SAFM, the now retired woman footballer, Portia Modise touched on how she could probably take on Thamsanqa Gabuza and many other Premier Soccer League (PSL) players if she had the opportunity. The record breaking player bagged her hundredth goal for Banyana Banyana in 2014, making her only one of sixteen players in the entire world to do so. Whereas the current goals record for Bafana Bafana sits at Benni McCarthy’s 31 goals, having last capped against Brazil for the national team in 2012.

Portia has been a firm critic of the SAFA’s unfair treatment towards the national women’s team for a good while now. She has been backed by former Banyana Banyana captain, Amanda Dlamini who touched on the lack of financial liberation for women footballers who are encouraged to put the badge above everything else.

According to a report by Kaya FM, Banyana Banyana players could make up to R600 in daily allowances when on national duty, even though they qualify and excel in international tournaments. Bafana Bafana players, on the other hand, stand to make as much as R60 000 each for qualifying for major tournaments – which seldom happens in cases where South Africa does not play host nation. The only recognisable brands which have pulled their weight behind Banyana Banyana time and again, are SASOL and the gsport4girls awards.

Being a woman working in sports, has also proved to be quite as difficult with pay disparity and challenging working conditions. While the movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault known as #MeToo has managed to change the entertainment industry on the international front, especially in the United States of America, it has severely failed to pick up any momentum locally. Women who work as media practitioners in sports are afraid of speaking out as it could jeopardise their careers. They may be passionate about documenting South African sports but the reality is that it comes with having to deal with sexism and sexual harassment from their bosses, colleagues, players, coaches, technical staff, chairmen, all the way down to the supporters.

A woman sportscaster and sports writer who has been working in the industry for the better part of the last decade shared her thoughts on the unfair treatment faced by women who work in sports. While she has asked to remain anonymous, she describes women speaking out as career-threatening. “Honestly, you’re damned if you do…damned if you don’t. They’ll be restricted in terms of job opportunities or men will walk all over you. You’d have to work for years [or] decades to prove yourself worthy of sitting at the big boys’ table. They are preferred in positions of power and are never questioned on their knowledge in work spaces. You’re sexualised, and at the same time [you are] ridiculed for being feminine. It’s so normalised that our fellow male counterparts just turn a blind eye,” she says.

The most common barrier, according to her, is the unequal pay for equal work. The only distinguished upper-hand that her and other women sportscasters may have in their careers, comes with unwarranted sexual harassment and the objectification of their bodies. “Sometimes you’re required to smile and tilt your head to get ahead. There are instances when interviewees refuse to speak to men because, ‘you’re a beautiful woman’. And you’d just get the job done. The most drastic [one] is [being asked to] sleep with potential employers for jobs, which defeats the purpose of women growing and gaining respect in the workplace. Women don’t need to break their backs [to] prove themselves to be on the same level as men. That bar is quite low in itself.”

Although there is a lack of support for women in football here at home, we can celebrate the recent historic signings of Banyana Banyana duo, Rhoda Mulaudzi and Refiloe Jane to Australian side Canberra United which makes them the first South African players to join the team. Defending champions, Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club, is one of only two teams within the PSL, to have ventured into women’s football. The other, is the Free State’s Bloemfontein Celtics Football Club.

It remains to be seen whether the other fourteen teams will also venture into women’s football, with the same zeal as when they invested in reserve teams for the MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC) four years ago. The MDC, which has successfully taken off right under our noses has been largely successful, even venturing into cup football with the introduction of the MultiChoice Diski Shield this year.

It goes to show that with sufficient monetary investment and backing from those higher up within our sports administration bodies, there is no reason that Banyana Banyana would not thrive more than it already has even with its limited resources. Ideally, players should not have to venture into other career paths in order to sustain their livelihoods while fulfilling their patriotic duty. Especially when this is not the case for their male counterparts.

The kind of commitment that Banyana Banyana has shown over the years should, at the very least, be fairly rewarded. Players should not have to worry about where their next meal will come from when they always endeavour to deliver to the very best of their abilities.