Sexual harassment in sports, the silent vice

Félicité Rwemalika (centre), the head of the Association of Kigali Women in Sports (AKWOS), poses with female football players. She says that women in sports would be less vulnerable if there are more women in sports leadership. File

As more women join different sports disciplines, questions are being raised about how protected they are from sexual harassment.

And, the fact that they join at a young age, they are more vulnerable to scrupulous men who in most cases are in charge of them.

The New Times approached various personalities in sports and it was evident that it was on vice kept on the hush.

One of the popular sport for women in Rwanda is volleyball. Adalbert Mfashimana, the Secretary-General of Rwanda Volleyball Association, FRVB told The New Times that he has not heard of such issues in their federation.

However, he added, that does not mean the sport is clean.

“No one has reported a case so far, but it doesn’t mean that there are no cases,” Mfashimana said.

“We think that if the case was to happen, it would be caused by power abuse. A coach can abuse a player, a team captain can abuse a player.”

For football, another popular sport, the federation seemed to be in denial.

“It [sexual harassment] is not there. I don’t know about it. I have never heard of such cases,” said Regis Uwayezu the Secretary-General of the Rwandan Football Federation (FERWAFA).

He added: “Only ask me about football.”

Sarah Uwera who plays for the National Cricket team told The New Times that while she has not experienced any kind of abuse herself, she has heard about it in other sports federations.

Hard to find evidence

Félicité Rwemalika, the Vice president of Rwanda National Olympic and Sport Committee (RNOSC), said that sexual harassment in sports is not something new, but it is hard to find evidence because people do not bring forward cases of abuse.

“It [sexual harrasment] is widely spoken of but we don’t have evidence,” she said.

Rwemalika, who is also the founder of the Association of Kigali Women in Sports (AKWOS), pointing out that sexual harassment is likely to take place in Rwandan sport because all coaches are men and they train young girls.

“When you don’t abide by the coach’s requirements, you are either not allowed to play or replaced by someone else,” Rwemalika added.

And, in cases of abuse, the girls remain silent.

“The victims keep quiet. They don’t talk about it so it is hard to find evidence,” Rwemalika said.

“They do not report mainly because of the ‘silence culture’ that limits bringing cases related to sex forward.”

Women in leadership

The women in sports body is trying to address the problem.

They recently hosted a forum, where they invited experts from the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), who encouraged them to report without fear.

Among the recommendations from the forum was to advocate for more women in leadership positions within sports federations and to have someone specifically designated to look into incidents of harassment.

Rwemalika was called on other stakeholders like the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) to support their efforts to boost women in sport and address issues that slow their progress.

“They [GMO] should follow it up and see where the gap is, and what can be done. They should not leave the case up to individuals whose voices aren’t loud enough,” Rwemalika added.

When contacted the Chief Gender Monitor, Rose Rwabuhihi, told The New Times that they have not yet done any assessment on the sports community, but they do plan to.

“We have been informed that there may be issues of harassment we are planning to look at soonest,” Rwabuhihi said.

Member of Parliament, John Ruku Rwabyoma told The New Times that he knows cases of harassment are not unique to sports and described it ‘abuse of office’.

To address the issue, MP Rwabyoma recommends educating girls about their rights.

“Once you know your rights, you should be the master of your body,” he said, adding that where the victims are not aware of their rights, they tend to have them compromised.

“Some don’t know they are abused when one touches them in an inappropriate way, invades their private space and uses abusive language,” he said.

Rwabyoma added: “We have a long way to go to educate our girls about their rights. Let us all make it a point that our kids are aware of their rights. Once they do, no one will be violating them wherever they are.”

Parents, schools, and all the community at large have a big role to play in teaching the girls their rights, the MP said.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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