Rutendo Nyeve, Features Reporter
BARELY a week goes by without Zimbabwean women in sport making headlines in the media. Just recently, Kudakwashe “Take Money” Chiwandire won the World Boxing Council super-bantamweight interim title (WBC).
The 27-year-old clinched the title when she beat 35-year-old Zulina Munoz in a match that saw determination overriding experience as the Mexican opponent had over 65 fights under her belt and had been a world champion five times.
Early last month, the Zimbabwe national women’s cricket team, the Lady Chevrons, secured bronze when they narrowly missed out on qualification for next year’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Bangladesh, the tournament winners and runners-up Ireland qualified for the global showpiece. However, this was an achievement enough for the Lady Chevrons who managed to not only come with silverware but announce their presence on the continental and global stages.
The Zimbabwe senior netball women’s team, the Gems are preparing for their second appearance at the Netball World Cup tournament in South Africa next year. This comes after they finished third at the Africa Netball World Cup Qualifiers in Pretoria, South Africa last month.
These and other successes continue to inspire a new narrative about the involvement of women in sport. In the yesteryears, when one pondered about professional sports, the primary thing that came to mind was football, cricket, rugby, and swimming among other disciplines. These games have one thing alike, that is, they have over the years been all male-dominated. In the public eye, ladies could not contend nearby men in professional games.
Is that reasonable? Many people particularly in developing countries and Zimbabwe to be specific did not view ladies as a fountain of ability in various sporting disciplines. Generally, as men continued to dream of playing in major tournaments and platforms, Zimbabwean women were quick to achieve those dreams and set examples that the country’s flag can be lifted even on global stages.
With the patriarchal nature dominating society in most facets of life, the sport was not to be spared. The continued dominance of males in various sectors of society saw amplified calls for the emancipation of women and the promotion of gender equality.
So amplified were these calls that they became a priority among key global goals that included the Millennium Development Goals and subsequently the Sustainable Development Goals. At the turn of the millennium, the United Nations set Women’s emancipation and promotion of gender equality as the third goal among the 15 MDGs. Zimbabwe committed herself to three of the goals. Goal one, which was to ensure the country eradicates extreme poverty and hunger, and goal 3 and goal 6 which thrived to combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases.
While significant strides were made in ensuring this was achieved, the promotion of gender equality and women’s emancipation has proven to be one of the country’s biggest achievements.
Women in sport in Zimbabwe had been looked down upon due to the gender stereotype that men performed better than women. However, the nation’s thrust to empower women and particularly those in sport drove a long overdue reality that women, whether as individuals or in teams can perform better than men.
The pace was set by the women’s hockey team in 1982 when they won gold at the Olympics. For the country, it was the only team to win a gold medal since independence. This was followed by Cara Black who won several tennis awards as an individual and with her doubles partner. As if this was not enough to drive the reality home, Kirsty Coventry was to become a trailblazer in swimming to earn herself the world record holder. She is the most decorated Olympian from Africa. She is the only former athlete to be appointed a minister.
In football, the Zimbabwe women’s football national team is the only team to qualify for the Olympics with more Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearances than the men’s team and 5 gold medals at the Zone Six Tournament.
These achievements by women have not only been confined between the boundary lines in the various fields of play but as Zimbabwean women, they have also taken up management positions. Ms Anna Mguni has been a pacesetter in the Olympics movement holding several positions. Rosemary Mugadza is the only elite woman Caf instructor in a field dominated by men.
All these achievements have seen them getting praise from various sectors. Government through the Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Dr Sithembiso Nyoni has applauded women in sport for their numerous successes in various stages.
“Women in sport, as is in most sectors, have done exceedingly well in Zimbabwe, yet they have remained unsung heroes. To begin with, as Zimbabwean women we are very proud of Dr Kirsty Coventry who has led by example in swimming and because of her achievements she is the first Minister of Sport who rose from practice and success in her field.
Other shining examples of success in their fields are Rosemary Mugadza, the only elite woman Caf instructor, Mrs Leticia Chipanda and Anna Mguni who have excelled and put our country on the world map. There are many others, and as a Ministry, we are proud and would like to encourage the media to continue to feature women’s success stories in every sector,” said Dr Nyoni.
However, these achievements have not only lifted the country’s flag high but have helped boost their self-esteem and self-emancipation.
According to research, girls and women who participate in sport and physical activity in both developed and developing countries demonstrate higher self-esteem as well as improved self-perception, self-worth, self-efficacy and so on.
These improvements are associated with enhanced feelings of accomplishment, perceptions of improved physical appearance and commitment to exercise. Evidence from developing countries shows that involvement in organised sports activities helped to enhance girls’ sense of agency, self-empowerment and personal freedom. — @nyeve14