For Batswana sportswomen, the barriers faced every day just to participate in sport are insurmountable.
These barriers prevent many of them from reaching the pinnacle of their sporting careers and reaping proper benefits like their male counterparts.
Among these are the cultural, institutional and social barriers, which contributes towards discrimination and stereotyping.
According to gender activist Game Mothibi, ‘all these barriers mount up and contribute to the inequalities that are currently prevalent in local sport today.’
Mothibi, who is also the Global Executive member of International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) says this is evident in the low numbers of women participation in sport in Botswana.
A 2017 report by Women in Sport Botswana (WASBO) shows women constitute only 27.4% of athletes in Botswana sport, while they make only 19.5% in leadership level of National Sports Associations (NSAs).
Faced with these unflattering statistics, WASBO is now intent on advocating for a sports policy formation to break the barriers and ensure women freely participate in sports.
To ramp up the change, WASBO recently hosted a sports pitso (meeting) to kickstart the process of advocating for the formation of inclusive sport policies.
The sport pitso was held under the theme; ‘Elevating women and girl child participation in sport through the inclusion of policies.’
Commenting on the matter, Mothibi says ‘policies are critical to have as they give hope and shows intention in addressing women challenges in sport.’
“Policies make it easy for women to challenge systemic inequalities in sport also helping women argue their equal entitlements, rights and privileges and opportunities in sport,” she says.
Mothibi says if policies are formulated, they will be a reference point to address safety of women in sport and protect them from problems such as sexual, emotional and physical harassment.
“Safe sport policy and sexual harassment policy will help create systems (referrals, reporting, counselling, rehabilitation) therefore making women feel safe in sport,” she explains.
To make sure the policies are formulated, Mothibi believes it is also critical to increase the number of women in coaching and administration.
“Women sport administrators have an upper hand of lobbying and advocating for international clauses that speaks to women and girls in sport,” she says.
“Their influence will ensure full implementation of IWG Brighton plus Helsinki declaration by Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC), Botswana National Olympics Committee (BNOC) and the NSAs who are all signatories,” says Mothibi.
She adds that women administrators will advocate for ‘the creation and utilization of different platforms to engage, educate and discuss where and how policies could be reviewed to be gender sensitive and inclusive and also which policies are needed to be enacted.’
Mothibi noted that as an administrator their duty is to advocate, influence and lobby for the BNSC act, BNOC constitution, BNSC vision 2028 and BNOC BLTAD to be explicit in how they address gender inequalities in sports.
As a way of enforcing change, she believes gender sensitive and inclusive policies need to be set in place.
In addition, Mothibi called for the strengthening of WASBO in order for it to ‘effectively deliver on its mandate.’
She says WASBO ‘has to be an independent structure’ with a fully-fledged secretariat ‘in order to be able to lobby and advocate freely as well as question and demand what is right for women.’
“There is a bucket full of things that can be done to help implement change. A database for women athletes, women in leadership, coaches, and officials, women in sports media and women in sports business needs to be created,” she says.
Mothibi says these should be accompanied by ‘different interventions for different categories of women in sport, not forgetting to educate sport leadership.’
In conclusion she noted that the government plays a vital role in also ensuring that gender inequality comes to a halt. Highlighting that a case for sport in government should be added; and with sport being for all genders, it can also be used as a tool to address gender inequalities in the society.
The same sentiments are echoed by WASBO Secretary General, Keenese Katisenge who says ‘policies for safe sport and safe guarding women and girl child are very critical.’
Through the policies, Katisenge says they will ‘ensure the overall protection of the female but most importantly the athletes as a whole.’
She says such policies would stipulate procedures on reporting issues and measures to be taken when incidents occur.
“We are the care takers of athletes and these children are under our protection and care. We have to ensure that as parents allow them to play of sport, we also give them enough protection so they they can continue having their purity and innocence, while participating, competing and bringing medals under a very conducive environment,” she says.
The WASBO Secretary General also concurs with Mothibi that increasing the number of women in sports administration is very critical.
She says the baseline survey which was used in 2017 shows that the major challenges women face in sport in Botswana is ‘having a limited number of women in the decision-making board.’
Katisenge says the problem of low number of women in administration is compounded by the high rate of ‘lack of retainment of women in sport.’
“In Botswana, when women reach a certain age or become parents and start families, they choose families over sport and completely get out of the sporting environment. This reduces the number of women in sport,” Katisenge observes.
Katisenge concludes that the policies should also talk to ‘issues of education and empowerment of everyone involved in sport.
She says this will ensure the athletes are well equipped in knowing how to handle issues.