Dear Ladies, Greatness Has Been Found
Good morning ladies – it’s time to get off 'your buts'. Allow me to clarify that it’s not a typo and nor is that my line; it actually belongs to Alabastron’s Laimani Bidali. A few weeks ago, we were in a room talking about Chapter 4, article 27, of our beloved constitution. Our concern was developing a forum to truly champion and empower women to run for office, to live significantly, and stop second guessing themselves. Laimani said the first thing we have to do is tell our sisters ever so nicely to get off and get over their “buts”.
I’m sure you’re thinking this is a typo. No, we mean just that – get over your “buts”. Whenever a capable, smart and dedicated woman is asked to take up a leadership position, she’s sure to start the sentence with "but…”. If ever there was a time to stop saying “but” and say yes and then go from talking to action it’s now - today. I’m not going to spend the word count I have from the editor asking you to ensure you attend the Women’s Regional Leadership Conference happening at Safari Park all this week – it’s a given, you must attend.
However, I would like to put some wind beneath your wings by celebrating and acknowledging what the just concluded London 2012 Olympics have meant for women. These Olympics have been all about women. For the first time, Team USA sent more female athletes than male to the Olympics. Officials credit Title IX, the 1972 law that expanded athletic opportunities for women and girls. But that’s not the only development that has organisers touting the 2012 Olympics as a landmark for women.
This was the first Olympics in which women competed in all the events as men – women’s boxing was added this year -- and every participating country sent at least one female athlete. That includes Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, which have never sent women to the Olympics before. I cheered madly as Team Russia marched past and a very tall, very elegant Maria Sharapova led the contingent. The Olympic Charter is slowly but surely coming into its own.
The Olympic Charter states that one of the roles of the IOC is “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women” – (Rule 2, paragraph 7). The IOC also recognises that gender equality is a critical component of effective sports administration and continues to support the promotion of women and girls in sport at all levels and structures. 1981 was the first time a woman was allowed on the Olympic committee. It currently has 108 members and only 20 are women.
However, real change will not happen unless women are in positions of power. The race is not won. I’m not one to bemoan what we don’t have yet. I’m a firm believer in celebrating all our wins and building on them. There is no future in the past. If we are to take nothing else from this year's Olympics is that women shone and the world celebrated each and everyone of them.
What I have learnt from all these amazing women, some as young at 16, is that it does not matter what your background or what shape or size you are, if you put your mind to it, you can win. London will see more gold medals awarded to women than any previous games, up to 140 from the 127 in Beijing.
However, for every woman and girl who says “but” I need you to go to YouTube today and watch Sarah Attar. She finished last and more than a half-minute slower than her nearest competitor in the women's 800 metres. Yet hundreds rose to give her a standing ovation as she crossed the finish line.
Covered in clothing from head to toe, except for her smiling face poking out from her hood, Attar's debut came five days after a Saudi judo athlete became the ultraconservative country's first female competitor at any Olympics. Her mother is American and her father is Saudi. She has dual citizenship. Attar wanted to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics as a way of inspiring women – she could have run as an American.
I also love a little bit of debate and controversy, so you can imagine my sheer delight when the US women football team won their gold medal and revealed their Nike victory T-shirts that said "Greatness has been found”. Tweeter went mad. The minute I saw the shirt I chucked and thought “oh boy, there’s going to be trouble” but I cheered, went online and ordered one. If it was a male team that displayed those shirts we would not have heard a word from those yelling the shirts lacked humility.
Spare me. However, as Martin Samuel writing for the Daily Mail said last week, “women have finally found their place and it’s on the podium, not on a pedestal”. Take the podium and if you’re unsure if you have what it takes, I’m telling you that you do, but in case you don’t believe me, see you at Safari Park. There’s a room full of men and women whose mission is to tell you that you do.
Details on the conference all week on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/carolinemutoko