“The status of women in a society depicts the progress it has made.”
The saga of gender discrimination dates back to the time of fall of Adam and Eve. John Milton, in his book, Paradise Lost quotes Eve’s candid thoughts prior to her fall:
“And render me more equal, and perhaps,
A thing not undesirable, sometime
Superior: for inferior who is free?”
The statement of Eve highlights the fact that seeds of gender discrimination were sowed from the time of the birth of Adam and Eve.
Tracing the status of women in our history, their position can be aptly described as “A wife as a comrade, a daughter is a misery and a son a light in the highest heaven.” Travelling to Smriti period, women were stooped to the lowest levels in the society. Manusmriti quotes them as mere objects of seduction. They were impure and incapable of living independently.
The period of the 18th and 19th century was one of the darkest periods for women. Widow remarriage was prohibited and they were excluded entirely from the public domain. Women’s literacy rates were meager. A ray of hope was seen in the colonial period with the efforts of reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar.
Soon after independence from the British, the Constituent Assembly gave birth to the Constitution of India. It has been enshrined that there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of sex in Article 14. Article 21 guarantees that every human has the right to live a life of dignity and liberty. The statistical trends bring into light the grim realities of the country. As per the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1 in every 3 child brides in the world is in India. The Census of 2011 reveals that India has more than 45 lakh girls under 15 years of age who are married with children. Out of these, 70% of the girls have two children.”
The world of sports continues to be a hotspot for male sports players. The idea of women being equal shareholders in this field is not very well thought of. Sports have always been thought of as men’s domain and social stigmas continue to inhibit prospective female players. It is a known fact that earlier, women were not allowed to engage in any athletic or sporting activities. The first Olympics in Athens in 1896 witnessed only male participants. Even in the 19th century, women were not encouraged. It was for the first time in 1992 that women’s ice hockey tournament was decided to be included.
The challenges faced by women in this industry are diverse. First is the issue of wage gap existing at all levels, the menace of sexual harassment, the sexual glorification of women players and inadequate financial and institutional support to women—the gender stereotypes existing set of sports activities suitable for women and others unsuitable. The same was substantiated in a survey conducted by BBC news in India where a “third of those surveyed picked up one or more sports they believed were unsuitable for women. The list included wrestling, boxing, kabaddi and weightlifting.”
With changing times, women have also stepped in the arena of male-dominated sports and have performed exceptionally well. Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Geeta Phogat, Karnam Maheshwari and Saina Mirza brought laurels to the entire country.
However, no matter how much we feel that the trumpet of equality has been blown in the sports industry, numbers do not lie! The gender pay gap in this field is observed to be the highest. As per the statistics “that the women cricketers in the top brackets earn only 7% of what their male counterparts do.” A comparison was drawn between the earnings of Indian cricket team captains Virat Kohli and Mithali Raj as per BCCI’s new pay structure. “While players from the men’s cricket team have been divided into four categories – Grade A+, Grade A, Grade B and Grade C — the top bracket will receive Rs 7 crore annually while the others in the remaining categories will receive 5, 3 and 1 crore annually, respectively. For women cricketers, the contracts are settled across three categories i.e. Grade A, B and C. Each grade shall be respectively paid Rs. 50 lakh, Rs. 30 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh annually.”
The situation in other games such as football is no better. Dalima Chibber, one of the best female football players in India, states that female football players face financial, institutional problems. There is hardly any encouragement or support shown towards them.
Similar appalling conditions are faced by sportspersons across the globe. According to the New York Times, “prize money for men’s soccer world cup was $400 million whereas prize for winning women’s world cup was $30 million.”
In England, “Figures from the Football Association show the average hourly pay for a man at the organization was 23.2% higher than for a woman, The FA states. The Rugby Football Union also reported a 23% gender pay gap between the average hourly wages of men and women.
However, the bright side of the picture is that countries have recognized this gender inequality in sports and have taken steps to amend the same. Women soccer players in Australia shall receive a salary at par with their male counterparts. The Scandinavian countries took a landmark decision by cutting down the budget of male sports players to encourage and fund female sports players and bring them on the same line.
Another factor is the sexual harassment of the players. It is one of the major hindrances in the sports career of many women. The cases are so rampant that parents are hesitant in sending young sportswomen out of town for sports practices, coaching or tournaments. Families do not prefer women players to be taught by male coaches. Sportswomen have often discontinued their career in sports on account of harassment or constant abuse in the hands of their coaches.
They endure and suffer harassment from coaches due to the fear of not being selected, social inhibitions, and lack of knowledge of the appropriate forum to redress their grievances.
 Deborah A. Interdonato, “Render Me More Equal”: Gender Inequality and the Fall in “Paradise Lost”, 29 MILTON QUARTERLY, pp. 95-106(1995).