I have closely observed the media circus that has unfolded around the uncertainty as to whether South African born middle-distance runner and world champion, Caster Semenya, is a female or not. This question, and the way it’s being thrown about, is a clear violation of her rights.
This matter has even been interpreted by many as an intentional move to prick Africa’s bubble, where victory in international competitions is concerned – a move that smacks of racism.
Following Semenya’s victory at the 2009 World Championships, questions about her eligibility to compete as a woman in athletics begun.
There have been attempts by different sections to sexualise her.
There are those in fierce fight for her womanhood, those cynical enough to try convincing us she is male, voila the third group tells she is neither of the above – she is a hermaphrodite.
The questions that keep running through my mind each time this issue is raised: if this young girl did not win the 800 m race, would these details have attracted such worldwide attention?
If she was European wouldn’t her physical build just pass as a byproduct of her daily work-outs?
After attaining gold, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) demands for gender tests and then….its leaked that she has no ovaries and uterus. But so what?
As a woman, I felt deeply concerned. I wondered why she has to go through this public torture, for which some say she will soon be in need of counseling.
Dr. Elvis Tayebwa, a practicing medical expert in the country, explained that the fact that although Semenya has internal testes that produce the male hormone testosterone: “every woman has a level of this hormone in their bodies although for some it may be more than what is expected – forcing some women to have some masculine features such as beards and deep voices but this does not necessarily mean that they are men.”
Whatever comes out of the gender test results, my refrain remains the same, she should be left alone!
The United Nations’ stand on the protection and promotion of the rights of women clearly emphasizes equal opportunity to be involved in sport for leisure or for competition – a right of all women and men, girls and boys.
Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, the South African Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, requested the UN’s Division for the Advancement of Women to investigate this matter as it has severe consequences for women’s participation in sports globally.
“There should be some degree of transparency from the IAAF about the sequence of events that led to Miss Semenya’s gender being subjected to such unjustified public scrutiny.”
I could not agree more. This whole uproar is not worth it.
As a matter of fact, whether or not she can ever have babies, should not be the basis of her feminity. It is wrong that this girl be humiliated so publicly.
What will the emotional impact be? Has anyone thought about that?
Concerned organizations must stand up to fight for the rights of this vulnerable teenager or else women globally will remain prone to rights violations and the idea of human rights for all will remain a farfetched dream.
The author is a journalist with The New Times