Official Opening Of The Agnes Tirop Conference,17th January, 2022

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SPEECH BY AMB. (DR.) AMINA MOHAMED, EGH, CAV, CABINET SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF SPORTS, CULTURE, AND HERITAGE, OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE AGNES TIROP CONFERENCE, DIANI, KWALE COUNTY, 17TH JANUARY, 2022

Justice Njoki Ndungu representing our amazing Hon. Chief Justice Lady Justice Martha Koome

Your Excellency Meles Alem Tekea, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya,

Your Excellency Ms. Joyce Kasosa Kapampa, the Zambian High Commissioner to Kenya,

Retired Hon. Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch, 

Lady Justice Hon. Njoki Ndung’u – Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya, 

Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji, 

Chief Administrative Secretary for Culture Zack Kinuthia, 

Chief Administrative Secretary for Gender Linah Jebii Kilimo

Principal Secretary for Sports Joe Okudo, 

Principal Secretary for Culture Josephta Mukobe

Representatives of International Sports Organisations 

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Sports Hon. Bishop Titus Khamala

Federation officials 

The Family of the Late Agnes Tirop 

Celebrated Athletes,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the summer of 1900, during the second ever Olympic Games held in Paris, Hélène de Pourtalès of Switzerland made history by becoming the first woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics. She emerged winner in a 1 to 2 ton sailing competition.

Barely two months later, Briton Charlotte Cooper became the first female individual champion after she won women’s singles tennis competition on July 11.

At the time, women were only allowed to participate in four sports – tennis, golf, sailing and croquet.

It was not until 1928 that women were allowed to participate in athletics, with the competitions being restricted to 100 metres, 800 metres, 4 x 100 metres relay, high jump, and discus throw. Halina Konopacka of Poland became the first female Olympic champion in athletics after winning the discus throw. The host Dutch team won the first gold medal for women in the gymnastics.

It is worth noting that, prior to the 1900 Olympics, women were not allowed to participate or even attend the Olympics; the penalty for attending these events was death. At the time, the Priestess of Demeter was the only woman allowed to attend the events. History records that Kallipateira of Rhodes, the granddaughter of Damagetos the King of Lalysos, was once threatened with execution after she attended the Olympics at Olympia as her son’s trainer.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Through all this, and in years that followed, women stood up and spoke out. With the support of men of goodwill, they shouted, protested, and demanded for inclusivity in sports; and little by little things began to change.

In the 1900 Paris Olympics, there were only 22 participants out of 997 athletes, while the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had 5,494 female participants out of 11,476 accounting for 49% of the total participants. Again, from participating in only five track and field events in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, women participated in 23 track and field events in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And countries like the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, and of course Kenya announced team line-ups that had more women than men. This goes to show that great things happen when people stand on the right side of history.

Ladies and Gentlemen

So it’s not in doubt that women have done a lot to leave an indelible mark in various disciplines by breaking records, winning medals, and warming the hearts of millions of sports enthusiasts across the world, and yet there is still a dark cloud that hovers over the sports sector – and that is Gender-based Violence.

World Athletics recently announced that female athletes were the target of 87 per cent of all online abuses during the Tokyo Olympics. 87 PER CENT! This is disheartening.

This revelation goes to show that beyond the amazing success and riveting stories of triumph on the field and on track, are tales of horrible gender-based humiliation, exploitation and suffering meted against these young talented girls and yes, boys too.

Like many sports women across the world, Kenyan sports women have often been victims of Gender-based Violence that has impeded their performance in competitions and resulted in emotional stress, and in some cases death. The murder of Kenya’s fastest rising star in long-distance running, Agnes Tirop, at her home in Iten, like others before her was a poignant reminder of the cataclysmic effects of Gender-based Violence.

At the time of her death, Tirop was already a legend, holding a world record in the 10-kilometre women-only race. The 25-year-old was also a two-time World Championship bronze medallist, one-time World Cross Country Championship gold medallist, one-time World Cross Country Championship silver medallist and one-time Olympic Games finalist.

Even in her death, Agnes Tirop still inspires us hence The Agnes Tirop Conference, named in her honour.

The conference, which runs under the theme: Levelling the Playing Field: Gender Inclusivity in Sports will include plenary sessions and panel discussions on key thematic areas such as legislation, policy, and institutional framework, women in leadership, mental health, sports as a tool for ending GBV, resource mobilisation, and the role of key sector players (including educationists and the media) in mitigating GBV. We shall also have capacity building sessions for athletes and sports officials.

Similarly, together with Athletics Kenya, we have organised a cross country championship, dubbed the Agnes Tirop Cross County Championship. It will be held in Eldoret next month, as a platform to sensitise the public and sports stakeholders on the need to embrace gender equity in sports.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Long before Agne’s regrettable tragedy, I formed, under the direction of H.E President Uhuru Kenyatta, a nine-member Committee, on 10th July 2021. The mandate of the Committee was to conduct an urgent audit of women’s inclusion in teams their involvement in federations management, examine the existing challenges and opportunities for corrective improvement, conduct an analysis of the status of discrimination and abuse in the sports ecosystem, and submit a report and recommendations to my office.

The report, which will be launched today, is as a result of the dedication, hard work, and commitment of the Catherine Ndereba Committee. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Committee conducted interviews and collected views from team coaches, athletes, federation officials, among others, on the state of play on gender dynamics in the sports sector.

As you will notice, among the issues highlighted in the report include disparities in remuneration between male coaches and female coaches, sportsmen and sportswomen, and male and female referees; gender imbalance in the composition of federations and technical bench of various national teams; partiality in media coverage with male athletes getting broader coverage compared to their female counterparts; and rampant cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse directed towards sportswomen by sports officials, technical bench, and sportsmen.

The recommendations highlighted in the report include fairness in remuneration for sportspeople, referees, and team officials, regardless of their gender; observing gender balance in the composition of federations; giving opportunity to retired female coaches to mentor and train young female coaches; adequate budgetary support for female athletes; broader media coverage for women sports events; development of a gender sensitive Sports Act and Policy; and action against perpetrators of Gender-based Violence.

This conference will be seeking to discuss some of these pertinent issues with the view of finding lasting solutions that will help curb Gender-based Violence in Sports in Kenya, and hopefully in the world. To echo the words of World Athletics President Sebastian Coe: “athletics clubs, schools and community sports environments should be safe and happy places for those in our sport”.

It is our solemn duty as sports stakeholders and leaders in positions of influence to hold hands, put our heads together and figure out how we can end GBV in sports, because ultimately, when the dust settles and the chips fall, we shall not be judged by what we wanted to achieve, but what we actually achieved in the quest for gender parity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We recognize the need to forge strategic partnerships if we are to succeed in achieving gender equity in sports. Beyond partnering with other government departments and agencies, we need to join hands with the corporate sector, CSOs, and the media.

In particular, we are aware that the resources required to achieve gender equity in sports is, in many parts of the developing world, more than governments can raise in a context of scarce resources and competing priorities. We, therefore, need to reach out to the private sector for support. This is particularly important considering that due to poor pay compared to their male counterparts, sports women are forced to take up other jobs to supplement their income. The burden of balancing work, training, food preparation, travel and tournaments can often be inundating. Moreover, women’s access to sports facilities and equipment is limited compared to their male counterparts.

I thank companies that are already supporting this agenda and appeal to others to join us as part of their outreach programmes as well as their corporate social responsibility. They can do this by promoting sports entrepreneurship, sponsoring the broadcast of women games, initiating or enhancing rewards for outstanding performance by sportswomen, supporting the development of gender sensitive infrastructure, providing sports equipment, as well as through sponsorships and endorsements which should remain in place even when the sportswomen are in the family way.

I also reach out to the media for support in achieving gender equity is sports. The media wields immense power in sustaining public interest in sports and in shaping norms and perceptions about gender. In the past, this power has not work in the best interests of women in sports. Many of you, for instance, may be familiar with the 2007 study by Bissell and Duke on beach volleyball games at the 2004 Olympics.

They study found “that nearly half of the camera angles were focused on the players’ bodies and not anything to do with the games at all.” This implied that women’s bodies are more interesting than their ability to perform in their sport.  This reflects the relics of a cultural orthodoxy that insisted on seeing women as ornaments of beauty rather than individuals with feelings, talent, ambitions and potential. In another case, a media house included, in its list of top 10 female athletes, two race horses! That is grouping women and animals together!

Although the situation has been gradually improving, the coverage of women sports events and the number of female sports journalists remains low. Today, most of us, perhaps even in this room, can name dozens of male athletes, but would likely not name even one in the female equivalent to that sport. The lack of substantial media coverage has meant that sports women cannot attract sponsorships and endorsements. This has adversely affected the livelihoods of sportswomen and their ability to showcase their capacity and skills.

I appeal to the media to support gender equity in sports by providing equal coverage to women sporting events. I also urge the media to deliberately seek to change the perception that for women to gain respect from male sports fans, they must fit into the masculine narrative of sport.

This will develop respect for women, eliminate the social stigma associated with women in sports, and increase their likelihood of accessing sponsorships.

Perhaps more importantly, it will provide the young generation of women with positive role models.  Today, this young generation of girls is bombarded with images of external beauty, rather than those of strong and confident female athletic personalities.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we know, sports does not only empower women economically and improve their health. Sports also provide girls with safe spaces where they can gather, develop a sense of identity and build networks. Above all, it enhances women’s self-confidence and self-esteem, and enables them to acquire valuable skills in negotiation, management, decision-making and leadership. In effect, by seeking to make the world of sports a safe place for women, we are contributing to their holistic development.

And so, as I welcome you to this conference, I humbly urge you to engage candidly over the next three days to ensure we come out of this conference with practicable recommendations that will promote gender equity and curb Gender-based Violence in Sports in Kenya and beyond.

 

Thank You!

God Bless You!

AMB. (DR.) AMINA MOHAMED, EGH, CAV,

CABINET SECRETARY,

MINISTRY OF SPORTS, CULTURE, AND HERITAGE

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