Tuesday, November 27, 2007

News from around the world

1. A new study in Britain by the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation has found that more women need to get active--now! In the US we like to talk about "progress" and the numbers of women participating in sports and other physical activities; especially using 1972 (the passage of Title IX) as a reference point (even though women did engage in sport before then--sometimes we forget that). But there is no Title IX in Britain and now it seems that more and more women are not engaged in any physical activity. The study estimates that if the current trend on non-activity continues, there will be 1.25 million fewer women engaging in the recommended amount of exercise just one decade from now. One of the obstacles: image. Apparently being sporty is not sexy and though women want to be thin, they do not want to be athletic-looking. Having an athletic body (well a cetain type of athletic body) is not as much a problem in the US and certainly athletic is not equivalent to un-sexiness--as evidenced by the hundreds of visits I have received from people looking for pictures of naked female athletes. But both situations are problematic obviously. In the UK the plan is to develop a "national strategy" to raise participation. Sounds sufficiently vague enough to accomplish very little by the time the next report is released. Combating such ingrained stereotypes is going to require a large, coalition-type effort from multiple groups and interests. I hope that's what they have planned. [Here's more coverage of the report's release which includes the concerning statistic that only 20 percent of British women are engaging in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times/week and this level of activity is the same as it was twenty years ago.]

2. This is a very nice story out of Israel about a group of women who were encouraged and took up flag football several years ago. It addresses the desire for competition and physical activity and how these women negotiate their playing lives (including getting out of the home twice a week for games/practice) with often very religious and domestic lives. [As an American who plays flag football I found it very amusing to read the level of detail the writer provided to explain the rules of flag football, including what exactly those odd belts with two flags are for.]

3. In post-war Rwanda women and girls are finding more and more opportunities to participate in sports. All the sports federations in the country have male and female teams but there is still work to be done. Convincing people, including the women themselves, that women can (and should) be involved in sports can be a hard sell. In part, this is because there are so few female role models--not just in Rwanda but internationally. The article reports that it is common for schoolchildren to wear t-shirts with pictures of male superstar soccer players. But it does not seem like t-shirts of Mia Hamm or Marta are very popular. (Do they even exist? Hey, if they do, Christmas is coming and I would love a t-shirt with a big picture of Abby Wambach on it, Santa.)
What is particularly impressive about the Rwandan initiative is the training of female coaches. The commitment to increasing female participation has many benefits, some more universal such as health or countering gender hegemony. But in a post-war country such as Rwanda more sports means economic benefits (the creation of jobs on sports teams) and continuing resolution of group conflict.

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