Tag Archives: gender

New study says football is an effective teaching tool for AIDS and HIV prevention programs

Normally I keep the nerdiest research material to myself, but something really exciting and thought-provoking just happened in the world of sports and international development: Coxswain Social Investment has released a new study called “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”, and it indicates that football-based AIDS and HIV-prevention programs are highly and uniquely successful.

I’m not surprised by this, but the 55-page report written up all academic-like (the Table of Contents presents no fewer than 15 “findings”) is like a professional reference for the game I love. There’s been a study, there’ve been findings, and they’ve proven what players and fans have known all along: that this people’s game that can be played anywhere in the world with nothing more than a ball is much more than a diversion – it’s a viable delivery model for life-saving messages.

OK, so here’s the thought that provoked me:

3.2 Gender Inequality
The spread of HIV has much to do with gender inequality. HIV is prevalent much more among women than men, and about two thirds of newly-infected young people aged 15-19 years in sub-Saharan Africa are female. Grassroot Soccer stresses the importance of girls benefiting from  prevention efforts by making sure that half its participants are female. In Grassroot Soccer’s Street Skillz Sessions…, football game rules are designed to involve girls as much as possible, for example by counting each goal scored by a girl as two points.
– “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”

For some context, Grassroot Soccer is the organization co-founded by former professional soccer player and (TV show) Survivor Ethan Zohn. It’s an organization with a mission I support (“… to provide African youth with the knowledge, skills and support to live HIV-free”) but I’m put off by the practice of handicapping by gender. Ensuring that half of the program participants are female is an obvious and justified mandate, but how does a differential point system play into this? I just don’t get it. [Note: Check out Zak from GRS’ response in the comments. It would appear that this rule in the Street Skillz program is no longer in use, and was never aimed at the AIDS and HIV-prevention aspect of the program. Rather, it was an attempt to facilitate girls’ inclusion by encouraging passing to them.]

I don’t want to take a perfect cause for celebration (yet another example of soccer saving the world) and diminish it by focusing on a single aspect of program delivery. Instead let me present this thought, provoked: Does counting girls’ goals as more than boys’ goals somehow ensure that girls benefit from prevention efforts, whether by encouraging participation in the program or by diminishing gender inequality? If so, how?

For more soccer-related provocation and celebration, download the report here (I found it via Play the Game, which “aims to strengthen the basic ethical values of sport and encourage democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in world sport” – highly recommended reading for the sports development geek.)



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First Japanese woman to compete in US men’s professional baseball, and some updates (Semenya and the Iranian girls’ football team)

According to kickitout.org, baseball pitcher Eri Yoshida is making history for being the first Japanese female to play baseball in the US male professional league.

Eri Yoshida, from kickitout.org

Eri Yoshida, from kickitout.org

Yoshida’s maverick balling began in Japan when at 16 she was drafted to Kobe Cruise 9 in the minor Kansai Independent League, making her the first female to play professionally in that country. Now, playing for the Chico Outlaws, she’s the third woman ever (and first Japanese woman) to play in the US men’s professional league.

“There are probably ladies who think they might be able to compete at a high level, but maybe don’t have the confidence. This will give them the confidence. This will open doors.”
– Chico manager Gerry Templeton

Elsewhere in the sport and gender universe, Caster Semenya is competing again, but news reports are still consistently muddied by rumors of official wrong-doing related to the six months of “gender testing” forced on the runner. At this point, I really haven’t the foggiest idea what the official line is, but it’s clear that Semenya’s name will be associated more with a gender panic than with her astonishing athletic contributions for some time. Pity.

And finally, the Iranian girls’ football team is competing at the Youth Olympics in Singarpore. You’ll recall that the team was originally banned from participating in hijab and removed from eligibility.  Then, a modified uniform was presented that met Youth Olympic guidelines for sport safety, but prompted Marzieh Akbarabadi (who’s in charge of women’s sports in Iran) to protest, calling the outfit “inappropriate”. It would appear that a compromise has been reached, because the team is in Singapore competing.

Photo from The Ledger Independent, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Photo from The Ledger Independent, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on hand to watch the Iranian girls’ game, and offered this:

“It’s very important,” Blatter said. “It’s very important for football, that football be played by and in all cultures. Especially at this level of the youths, and the Olympic idea, I think it’s very important.”
– Sepp Blatter, “Headscarf issue solved, Iran girls focus on soccer

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Updates: Caster Semenya, Iranian girls’ team, and Grannies Grannies

When I come across additional information or small updates to a story I have been following, I typically add it at the bottom of the original post in an “update” box. The problem with this is that nobody gets a notification, so unless you’re a new (or obsessive) reader you’re not going to see it. I’m going to try something new today: a “roundup”.

Here’s what’s going on in my world:

1) Caster Semenya has (finally) been cleared to race “as a woman”.
You all know what I think about this (for those just joining us, go here), but I do want to add that the IAAF is not disclosing any details. Their statement was brief (or “terse”, according to Barry Petchesky, author of
Explaining The Caster Semenya Decision, Because The IAAF Won’t,” published on Deadspin), which makes a wrap-up difficult. Suffice to say that I still see this as a sad chapter, and one we will regret.

2) Iranian girls team may be banned from youth tournament… again.
You will remember that back in April 2010, FIFA banned the Iranian girls’ team from competing in the Youth Olympic Football Tournament based on the fact that the players were beholden by their religion to wear hijab (head scarves). Cue (righteous) outrage. By early May FIFA had about-faced and allowed the girls to play in a game-modified uniform.

A month passes.

Iran may not send its girls’ football team to the Youth Olympics in Singapore next month because of a dispute over the players’ Islamic attire, Iranian media reported on Thursday. The deputy head of Iran’s physical education department, Marzieh Akbarabadi, was quoted by newspapers, including Khabar Varzeshi, or Sport News, as saying the newly designed dress was “inappropriate.” [The uniform] was unveiled during a practice session on Wednesday, which Akbarabadi, who is in charge of all women’s sports in Iran, left in protest.
– Nasser Karimi, “Iran girls’ football team may miss Singapore event,” Associated Press (July 8, 2010)

You know what? I said this before and I say it again, and this time with feeling: Let them play! These girls are athletes. They’ve trained (despite mighty opposition) to become good enough to qualify, yet all around are powers-that-be lining up to play Daddy to them.

I am not qualified to comment on the rightness or wrongness of hijab, but I can tell you with utter certainty that these players should be accommodated. No person should be forced to cast aside one love (football) for another (one’s religion).

3) Grannies Grannies find a way
Way back on the first day of the World Cup I wrote about Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies), a South African soccer team comprised of women between the ages of 49 and 84. A month ago they were hoping to inspire South African president Jacob Zuma to provide the finances to send the team to compete at the Veteran’s Cup, a tournament for teams with players of 30 years and older that takes place in Lancaster, Massachusetts (Source: “For the Love of Soccer and a Lasting Sisterhood“, New York Times, June 6, 2010). Apparently Zuma left their exhibition game without seeing their victory (8-0, defeating the Waterfall Grannie Soccer team).

Yesterday Herbalife (Yes, that Herbalife) issued a press release:

Herbalife Ltd. has teamed up with the United States Adult Soccer Association…, the Massachusetts Adult State Soccer Association (MASS), the Veterans Cup committee… and the Lexpressas women’s soccer team to help the Vakhegula-Vakhegula soccer team come to America to compete in the annual Veteran’s Cup tournament this week.
– “Soccer Grannies to Compete in Veteran’s Cup,” Marketwatch, July 13, 2010

Apparently, in return the players will play in jerseys sporting the Herbalife logo. Zuma missed a brilliant opportunity. He could have been the dream-maker. It’s a shame but it’s his loss. Grannies Grannies found a way despite his indifference.

Who’s up for a road trip to Lancaster? I hear there’s some world-class soccer going on.

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The literal manufacture of vagina dentata

In between all the watching soccer and playing soccer and talking about soccer I’ve neglected writing about soccer. Or maybe, if I’m honest, I’ve been avoiding it a little bit because this post picks up on a difficult topic that we’ve delved into before (most recently here): rape.

On June 21, CNN published an article by Faith Karimi titled, “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape“. It’s exactly what it sounds like: South African doctor Sonnet Ehlers has designed, produced, and distributed a latex sleeve (called “Rape-aXe) that is inserted like a tampon.

Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man’s penis during penetration, Ehlers said. Once it lodges, only a doctor can remove it — a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.  “It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” she said. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.”
– From “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape

There is no doubt that rape – and in particular so-called “corrective” rape – is a serious and systemic problem in South Africa. There is little support for the women who are victimized, especially if they are black and from the townships (as they very often are). Officials don’t recognize “corrective” rape as a distinct type of crime, making their response inadequate at best (just as in the west we fought to characterize and categorize gay-bashing as a hate crime, the particular nature of “corrective” rape must be acknowledged if an effective response if to be mounted).

The last time I wrote about this I was making the simple point that even in the press there seems to be a sense of hopelessness and resignation rather than a call to action. With the high-profile rape, torture and murder of Eudy Similane the issue only gained notoriety. Nothing changed.

Now, at last, a response. But what does this say, that the response is the literal manufacture of vagina dentata?

Critics say the female condom is not a long-term solution and makes women vulnerable to more violence from men trapped by the device. It’s also a form of “enslavement,” said Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the east African country of Uganda. “The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.”
– From “South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape

A point well-taken. And what about the reification of the myth of the toothed vagina? How does this affect the discourse around the issue of rape? I am uneasy with the relationship. It muddies and mystifies, when we need thought that’s concrete and clear. Nonetheless, I can’t quite bring myself to condemn the device outright.

“Ehlers is distributing the female condoms in the various South African cities where the World Cup soccer games are taking place,” Karimi reports.

What do you think? Responses welcomed in the comments.

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Merry Pitchmas

This morning, Toronto feels different. Folks aren’t at work – they’re on the patios and in the streets. They’re watching TVs on their stoops and sharing barbeque and beer with their neighbours. There’s an expectant, optimistic, celebratory atmosphere that I can feel even in solitude in my home. It’s like Christmas for football fans. It’s Pitchmas.

This morning as I made coffee the foamer on my counter-top espresso machine vied for sonic domination but succumbed to the eternal drone of thousands of vuvuzelas. Twenty-two of the world’s finest players danced the ball across the pitch. I cheered and gasped. I was be-goosebumped.

In line with my very personal (or, according to friend and soccer blogger Zach Strauss, shamefully indecisive) approach to the beautiful game, I’ll be reporting on World Cup goings-on in my typically tangential way. I’ll leave the game commentary in Zach’s able hands. Any match that requires auto-defibrillation – twice! – is an hour and a half well-spent. Oh, and also, South Africa’s jerseys are king.

On this first day of Pitchmas I bring you a gift: On June 6, the New York Times ran a story about South Africa’s Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies), a soccer team made up of women between the ages of 49 and 84.

Vakhegula Vakhegula

Vakhegula Vakhegula, photo from the New York Times

Read the story. It’ll take 10 minutes of your time and will fill you with soccer-y goodness. The next 30 days will be a feast of technically exquisite football – the football of demigods. And – lucky us! –  because this game is loved everywhere and by everyone, it will also be a celebration of the football of the people.

UPDATE: Two-page feature, “They kick like grannies, proudly” on Vakhegula Vakhegula from the Los Angeles Times.

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“…until independent experts agree that the treatment has been effective.”

I live on the Internet. I work there, I read there, and I write there. But sometimes, when a topic confounds, I just gotta close my eyes and turn to another medium. God bless radio.

Radio insists on brevity. And in the rising swell of gabbling voices (mine included), it is this simple two-sentence story borrowed from Radio New Zealand that quietly drops the penny:

The World 800 metre champion Caster Semenya of South Africa has been undergoing hormone-based treatment for what is widely accepted now to be an inter-sex condition and could return to competition at some point this year.

Semenya won’t be allowed to compete at IAAF sanctioned events until independent experts agree that the treatment has been effective.

– “Hormone treatment for controversial gold medallist“, Radio New Zealand

It would appear (from this and other sources) that the IAAF is requiring hormone “treatment” in return for permission to compete. Be exceptional… but not that exceptional. It’s a standard that doesn’t seem to apply to everyone:

Yao Ming. All 7 feet, six inches of him. Photo credit: The Calgary Sun

Yao Ming. All 7 feet, 6 inches of him. Photo credit: The Calgary Sun

According to his Wikipedia page, Yao Ming “…is one of China’s best-known athletes, with sponsorships with several major companies, and he has been the richest celebrity in China for six straight years.”  Imagine if he’d been banned from his sport for having his remarkable – yet unfair! – physical advantage.

I am not going to belabour this point, but I believe that Caster Semenya’s story is going to be one of those sad chapters in history that future administrations will regret. It will be remembered as yet another example of our collective ignorance around sex and gender. We will wonder why we she was pathologized when she could just as easily have been lionized.

UPDATE: On May 19, the Telegraph published an article, “Caster Semenya’s rights being ‘swept under the carpet’, says sports scientist Tim Noakes” by Simon Hart. It’s worth a read, if only for the fact that in it, Noakes says what nobody else in the mainstream press seems willing to:
“So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage. It’s about keeping the Olympics free of intersex athletes, free of unwanted complications.” – Tim Noakes

Remarkably direct.


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ESPN to air segment on “corrective” rape, tonight at 7pm EST

Though I’ve not shied away from the topic of violence in these pages, I have found it extremely challenging to write about the violence against lesbians in South Africa, particularly the practice of so-called “corrective” rape. Doubling my apprehension is the urgency with which I need to write and publish this post, because I’ve just found out that ESPN will be airing a segment, “Corrective Rape”, on their program E:60, tonight at 7pm EST.

“The segment will tell the story of the former top female soccer players in South Africa, Eudy Simelane, was raped and murdered… Emmy winning journalist Jeremy Schaap traveled to the impoverished, crime-ridden townships of South Africa to report on the disturbing trend of ‘corrective rape’ in the country hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He interviewed three South African women soccer players who say they were beaten and raped because they are gay. Their haunting stories — and an interview with Simelane’s mother — are the backbone of E:60’s report.”

– From “ESPN’s E:60 brings ‘Corrective Rape’ May 11, programming notes” by April MacIntyre

As well, there’s a 52-second preview on ESPN’s site.

In the interests of time, I’ll cut the editorial here. For background and more information, read my post on the Chosen FEW football team and the article “Girlie “S’Gelane” Nkosi, Eudy Similane’s teammate and a lesbian activist murdered” by Jennifer Doyle at From a Left Wing.

I don’t get ESPN and I don’t know anything about the show or journalist Jeremy Schaap. I am apprehensive but hopeful that this might end up being a positive example of how the World Cup is bringing attention (and ultimately practice- and policy-change) to the violence facing South Africa’s lesbians. Those of you who watch the program are invited to post in the comments section.

Watch the piece (approximately 16 minutes) on ESPN’s site, here.This is a story about the practice of  “corrective” rape, which is rape with the intended purpose of punishing – and “correcting” – lesbians. The story hangs loosely around the 2008 rape, mutilation, and murder of South African pro footballer, LGBT-rights activist, and out lesbian, Eudy Similane. Journalist Schaap interviews several out lesbian soccer players, including Eudy’s childhood friend, from the townships of South Africa.

It’s not easy to tell a story like this while avoiding the grimy sheen of exploitation, and I don’t think the piece is entirely successful in doing so. That said, there are some revelatory moments. Schaap’s discussion with South African P0lice Services Spokesman Vishnu Naidoo handily illuminates the unwillingness of authority to even name the practice, much less prohibit it. Former Chair of the South African Human Rights Commision Jody Kollapen’s comments on culture and society provide some sort of context, which is a small relief following several man-on-the-street interviews parroting the sentiment that lesbians are deserving targets.


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