REMARKS BY HON. MARTHA K. KOOME, EGH, CHIEF JUSTICE AND PRESIDENT OF THE SUPREME COURT OF KENYA DURING THE GENDER WELFARE AND EQUITY IN SPORTS CONFERENCE, MOMBASA – DIANI, 17TH JANUARY 2022
THEME: ‘LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: GENDER INCLUSIVITY IN SPORTS’
Amb. (Dr.) Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Heritage,
Retired Hon. Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch,
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,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- I am delighted to participate in this seminal conference to discuss ‘Gender Inclusivity in Sports’.
- My appreciation and thanks to the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage, Ambassador Amina Mohamed, for convening this Conference and for inviting me to speak.
- I laud and celebrate the work spearheaded by the Ministry of the Sports, Culture and Heritage to promote gender inclusion and equity in the realm of sporting. By seeking to promote women’s inclusion in sporting teams and management of sporting federations, the Ministry is playing a critical Social Transformation role that gives effect to the 2010 Constitution’s goal of transforming Kenya into a Socially Just state and society.
- Indeed, a look at Article 27 of our Constitution shows that the Constitution intends to create an inclusive state and society where distinctions like those based on gender are set aside and everyone enabled to flourish and realize their potential in areas of their interest, including in sports.
- However, realizing the Constitution’s Social Transformation goal of promoting the well-being and flourishing of citizens faces challenges in the area of sports which has traditionally been viewed as a masculine and male-dominated institution.
- To be sure, girls and women have not been completely absent from the Kenyan sporting space. Girls and women have been participating in sporting activities and also watch sporting events as fans. For example, we celebrate all Kenyan female athletes including Agnes Tirop to whom we are paying tribute today who have always shone on track events and won many medals at the Olympics and other competitions at the international and continental level. Another noteworthy example is the Kenya Women’s volleyball team, the Malkia Strikers, which has dominated the African continent since the 1990s. These are just few examples of many of our sporting heroines that have done our country proud.
- Despite these laudable achievements, gender exclusion remains deeply institutionalized and embedded in Sports just like in other areas of social interactions across all areas of our lives. Put differently, Sports, like other areas of our lives, reflect and reproduce dynamics of gender inequality.
- However, we should not accept such a state of affairs that reinforces gender exclusion or downplays the importance of sports in women’s lives. Sports is a key facet of women’s leisure, work, and family lives thus the necessity to make it responsive to the lives of women and their families. This means that we must transform the sporting arena to be accommodative to women and girls.
- While we appreciate that though the numerical representation of girls and women in sporting activities has increased dramatically in recent times, that increase is within a context that associates sports with men and masculinity. Meaning that women are still viewed as outsiders in the Sports space, and that sports as an institution and interactional activity has been key in the embodiment and perpetuity of patriarchy.
- To transform this unacceptable status quo demands a shift from focus on individual achievements to a focus on systemic change. Systematic change does not come from making it more acceptable for women to be like men and to enter spaces dominated by men and masculinity. Systematic change comes when institutionalized gender beliefs and structures shift. Thus, this Conference and similar initiatives should focus on altering and dismantling the underlying gendered hierarchies within the sporting fraternity and also embracing positive measures that promote women’s participation not only in sporting activities but also their active participating in management of sports for example management within our federations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- When participating in sports, whether as athletes or coaches, women still find their competency questioned, their access and roles limited, and their successes dismissed. They are often not taken seriously, and are made to feel unwelcome in certain sporting arenas. And the media often render women in sports invisible or sexualize and trivialize them
- This shows the long difficult road ahead for us in challenging stereotypes that exclude women from sport related activities. But I am heartened by the strides already made by some of our women in breaking down these barriers. I celebrate Liz Mills, the current Head Coach of the Kenya Men’s senior national basketball team (the Morans) who became the first (1st) woman to lead a men’s national team to a major continental tournament in August 2021 by leading the Kenyan team at the AfroBasket 2021. This is a clear example of a woman excelling in what was previously regarded as a “men’s tuff”. But it is not enough.
- Even as sports consumers or fans, the legitimacy of women as sports fans is always questioned and you will often see this on social media where women’s views regarding football is often trivialized. Women’s assumed inferiority in sports-related knowledge is often the case due to the fact that our social constructions of femininity are incompatible with the idea of girls and women as legitimate and equal participants in sports.
- I therefore laud and celebrate women trailblazers who have broken barriers in this regard like Faith Kipyegon who as sports woman has shown that women can balance life and sport. Tegla Loroupe whose focus on the rights and welfare of girls, refugees and the marginalised has reaffirmed the value of women in sports management. Amina Mohamed, who, for the first time in Kenya’s history has convened a platform to address issues of violence, inequality, and exclusion of women openly and consciously in the field of sport. Catherine Ndereba, who, in spite of other competing responsibilities, admirably led this sensitive and important assignment. These and numerous others have served to promote the idea that women can be authorities in sport and indeed can participate as “equals in leadership, dialogue and participation” in sports conversations.
- All these examples show that girls and women are increasingly asserting themselves and seeking inclusion in athletic contexts, challenging gender stereotypes in varied and even contradictory ways. These women, and others that I have not mentioned, are pushing against notions that sports are reserved for men by proving equal to the task and exceeding every societal expectation as legitimate leaders, trailblazers and participants in the sports arena.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- I therefore urge the participants in this Conference, and other players in the Sporting sectors, to join hands with the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage Ambassador Amina Mohamed and her Ministry to build on these individual efforts by our girls and women to promote gender inclusion and equity in sports.
- My hope is that we will see this Conference as offering us a unique opportunity to critique the institutional constructions of gender in sports, and the consequences of the lopsides and gender-biased way we have traditionally run our sports.
- To conclude, I laud the Cabinet Secretary and the Ministry for Sports, Culture and Heritage for championing the conversation on gender inclusion in sports. It is my hope that the recommendations of the Catherine Ndereba report launched by the Cabinet Secretary will be cascaded to all institutions with the responsibility of reinforcing dignity and justice for all. This conversation is of national importance. It is an opportunity for all of us to support our athletes surmount the barriers that confront them on and off the field of play.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Justice Martha Koome, EGH,
Chief Justice, and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya
Hon. Justice Njoki S. Ndung’u, SC, CBS
Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya