Eunice Sum, Hellen Onsando Obiri, Irene Otieno, Margaret Wambui, Shehzana Anwar, Talisa Lanoe… these are some of the female athletes representing Kenya in this year’s Olympics. As the nation rallies behind them and their male counterparts to fly the Kenyan flag high, it calls for a moment of sobriety to reflect on the impact of their representation and the message they are sending out to other young girls and women who look up to them as role models.
Women representation at the Olympics has not always been a given. From the commencement of the games in Ancient Greece to modern times, the clamour for gender parity at the games has always been there; sometimes manifesting itself as a stoic, studious, stoic silence, at times the protestation rising to a deafening crescendo that cannot be shut out. For instance, in Ancient Greece, the Olympics were exclusively a male event, with women even being the token participation of being spectators.
The modern Olympics have fared much better, though with gender parity being realised in the preceding Olympics (London 2012) where men and women competed in the same number of events and all competing nations had female representation (with Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia doing so for the first time). It has not all been smooth sailing though as women were initially barred from participating in the games as athletes, and when they did so, being only incrementally included as an afterthought. To quote Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics games, who said that the inclusion of women in the Olympics would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” It took Alice Milliat’s competing initiative of the Women Olympiad to force greater inclusion of women in the Olympics.
Indeed, sports, as represented at the highest echelons that is the Olympics, has come along away in enhancing the perception of women as equals. This change in attitude has been as a result of increased awareness that comes from a mind that has been educated. Indeed, paying homage to the adage that “When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” In fact, it is at an educational set-up, such as to be found in an institution of higher learning, that sports facilities, and the requisite psychological and moral support needed for the rigours of physical and mental training that informs sports, can be found. Such a setup is also necessary in empowering women as leaders, as pacesetters and as innovators in whatever capacity and whichever field they are in.