“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I am not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size but when I start to tell them, they think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms; the span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I am a woman Phenomenally,” so goes a poem by Maya Angelou.
Unlike their men counterparts, women in sport are faced with many and unique hurdles on a daily basis.
Conquering these hurdles requires an innate strength not known to many, not even those who believe women should not be treated equally with men.
From the administrators to the female athletes, the challenges of being a woman in sport are almost all too familiar and similar.
For some like Game Mothibi, being pregnant and in sport was very challenging, more so having to multitask between work and sport after working hours.
“Dealing with a big work load and pregnancy is very challenging. Sport in Botswana works with volunteers, and sport-work is done after working hours. You therefore have to sacrifice beyond office hours,” she said.
“And when a woman is pregnant or a mother, the two roles compete and one of the two has to suffer,” she explained.
For sport, this is not ideal as sport requires a full functioning person with boundless energy.
As such, Mothibi said many women find it difficult to be mothers in sport or athletes as one has to suffer along the way. Due to this, sports tend to lose a lot of females due to nature call.
However, for Mothibi, she has to go with her passion for sport while her young ones where under the care of her mother during sport trips.
“Having to choose between demanding sport work and being a fulltime breastfeeding mother, I had to stop the latter earlier than planned,” Mothibi recalled.
“I had planned to breastfeed for a year and I did for only 9 months and the rest had to pump and freeze,” she reminisced.
Things got even more difficult as all this happened while she was the Secretary General for the International Working Group for women in sport (IWG), a four-year job that demanded lots traveling and late-night work shifts.
“During the last day of IWG conference, when I had to deliver closing speech, I broke down and cried realizing how the four years of IWG had stolen time to spend and raise my daughter my own way,” she said.
“Even to date I am still paying for the lost time. I have since decided I will rather take some of the trips with my daughter so that she does not feel I value my work over her,” she highlighted.
Mothibi says by nature, sport takes a lot of time and can make one an absent parent if not managed well.
On the brighter side, she said, it helped her daughter to become independent and learn separation at a very young age.
She said her daughter is now able to stay with any family member and still be comfortable and happy.
Her advice is that mothers and women in sport should learn to strike a balance between sport and family.
“They should not stop their plans of having children because of sport and they should not feel guilty to leave sport or work to be with her children,” Mothibi advised.
“We need to normalize putting ourselves first. It does not affect delivery at work, it actually makes mothers happy and are able to be more productive,” she said.
She however said local sport should understand the uniqueness between men and women and support them accordingly and put in place structures to support for nursing mothers.
“Having children or a child should not be a time to retire. Use all the available support to be able to go back to sport after seclusion period so that you continue work or your passion,” she said.
For her part, Keenese Katisenge-Tizhani, Women in sport Botswana (WASBO) Chairperson for Gaborone region said being a mother in sport is demanding.
“In all honesty, being a woman and a mother in sport is challenging and demanding. It requires a lot of focus and prioritization,” Katisenge-Tizhani said.
“One has to be able to continue honoring motherly duties daily without compromise while at the same time delivering in sport,” she continued.
The most challenging part, she said, is the fact that they are volunteers in sport because of the love for it and they do this while pursuing professional careers elsewhere.
“One needs a strong support structure in order to be able to continue volunteering in sport, especially as a mother and a working wife,” Katisenge-Tizhani said.
“I have been blessed to have a strong support system from home and have been able to be effective in sport despite the challenges. I am grateful for my husband who fully supports me,” she said.
To athletes and any woman conflicted on being mothers and carrying on with their passion, Katisenge said ‘they have to make their partners aware of the demands of sport. ‘
She said one needs supportive family members and friends who can time and again assist with caring for the young ones.