Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Gender and Sports in Africa’s Development

23-25 November 2009, Cairo, Egypt

Number of visits: 2586

In line with its mandate of developing, promoting, consolidating, and disseminating the
highest quality of research on and about Africa, the Council for the Development of Social
Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) will hold a Gender Symposium from November
23rd to 25th in Cairo, Egypt. The Gender Symposium is an annual event that provides a
platform for gender-focused debates. The theme for the 2009 symposium is Gender and
Sports in Africa’s Development.

In the period since the beginning of the 1990s, CODESRIA has been at the forefront of the
quest to harness the efforts of African scholars in both extending the frontiers of knowledge
production around issues of gender, and doing so in a manner that ensures that for as many
scholars as are active in its networks and at other African sites of scholarly work, gender is
integrated into their frames of analyses and modes of intervention. This has been done in line
with the Council’s institutional commitment, integral to its Charter mandate, to produce
knowledge that is not only anchored in the realities of the African continent, but which also
contributes to the progressive transformation of livelihoods; the conscious pursuit of gender
equality and inter-generational dialogues; and the harnessing of multidisciplinary
perspectives. The results which have been accumulated from the experience of the Council
and other like-minded institutions have, at one level, culminated in an efflorescence of studies
on various aspects of the gender dynamics of development, an expansion in the community of
African scholars with an active interest in gender research, the networking of that community
on a sub-regional and pan-African scale, and the projection of the voices of its members on a
global scale.

At another level, however, few will doubt that for all the progress which has been made in
promoting the idea of the centrality of gender to the robustness of any social research and the
completeness of any project of social transformation, a considerable amount of work still
remains to be done. The challenges that are posed are many but, in summary, could be said to
centre around the need to consolidate the many critiques of development that have been made
from various gender - and feminist - perspectives into a comprehensive, internally coherent
and consistent set of alternatives on the basis of which further advances in theory, method and
praxis could be achieved. Engendering African development requires close attention not only
to the analytical tools of the researcher but also to the production of a gendered critique of
development that questions the very foundations on which socio-economic and political
processes in Africa rest. Such a critique is a pre-requisite for the advancement of new
theoretical approaches and policy instruments. In sum, what is called for today is a complete
paradigm shift for which new scholarship will be necessary.

Different authors have identified different entry points for the developmental project they
have in mind for Africa but these differences need not detain us here for now. What is really
important to note is that it is inconceivable that the project of democratic development,
however defined, can ever be successfully built without a full integration of gender into the
equation. And it is precisely here that the deficits have been most in evidence in spite of all
official declarations committing governments to the promotion of the rights of women and the
equality of men and women. The dawn of the contemporary processes of globalisation
initially fuelled widespread optimism that promised new opportunities for the expansion of
the frontiers of women’s rights; several years after, this optimism has been tempered and
mitigated as much by the disempowering elements thrown up by the global age as by the
uneven distribution of the opportunities that have been associated with it. Particularly worthy
of note in this regard are the severe limits imposed on the expansion of social citizenship by
the neo-liberal ideological and policy moorings of contemporary globalisation. The sporting
fraternity as global playing field, has not been spared this chequered character. While sport
presents an opportunity for the participation of Africa’s men and women in the development
process, locally and with global implications, such participation is not without its own
problems, however, that require us to apply the gender lens to the reading of the natural twin
processes of play and development, and their applicability and place in the context of Africa.

Sports is an arena that is uniquely gendered, differentiating as it does between men and
women, boys and girls, in ways that have largely come to be accepted by many societies. Not
only are most sporting activities organised along dual terms, they also set the competitive
standards differently according to biological sex, with the female standard usually lower than
that of the male. Golf is a case in point; as are field sports such as high and long jump. Over
time and with the commercialization of sports globally, this differentiation has translated into
a hierarchy in the financial value ascribed to sports where female sports score lower on the
financial scale. By the same token, remuneration in the sporting field tends to be lower for
females while the males are paid more. Similarly, male sports arguably enjoy more attention
and, therefore, reputation and national/continental value than do female sports. And yet for
all these differences, the sporting arena retains its attraction for the gendered democratic
developmental project. Most sporting activities offer opportunities for inclusive participation
irrespective of gender, class, race, literacy, and other otherwise marginalising attributes. A lot
of sporting activities have also contributed to the development of individuals, communities,
countries, and the African continent in various ways, in recent times. At a political level,
sport in Africa has made possible the renewal and expression of a continental African identity,
especially with the upcoming Soccer World Cup in 2010, the first Soccer World Cup to be
held in Africa. Packaged as a continental event, it has been described as ‘an African journey
of hope’ towards freedom from war, tyranny, divisions, hunger, and the denial of human
dignity. The 2010 event is important not only because soccer, in some places referred to as
football, is a popular sport in Africa and has become an integral part of the African cultural
landscape; but also because it arguably enjoys the largest following worldwide, and is
immensely economically lucrative. To what extent then, does soccer, and all other sports
present as real possibilities for an engendered African developmental project?

A lot of scholarship on sports has focused on its local/global business dimensions; its political
importance; and as performance. Research into sports also offers interesting possibilities for
exploring intricate gender dynamics in the evolution and development of societies. This is
because sport is often played out beyond the confines of the playing fields. Sport, like most
aspects of play, is an element of culture with a significant role in the gender socialisation
process. As an institution, sport can be analysed and understood in terms of modern
democratic societal participation and development, allowing us to reflect on crucial questions
of governance, and pertaining to male/female participation and reward accrual that goes
beyond materialism; as well as to gendered identity expression, be it masculine or feminine as
performed by either or both sexes. Lending sports research a historical dimension holds out
interesting possibilities with respect to the socio-cultural adaptation of sport to African
societies’ gender dynamics; the exploration of cultural patterns over time; and the possibility
of insights into the relationship between children’s play and adult sports and the ramifications,
therein, for citizen participation in developmental processes.

Participants in the 2009 CODESRIA Gender symposium would be invited to consider the
various dimensions to the landscape of gender and the multifaceted sports arena including
athletics, cricket, children’s games in Africa, and ball sports, with a view to reflecting on the
possibilities and barriers that have emerged alongside the old obstacles that have persisted in
the search for and process towards a gender-inclusive African development project. The
symposium will, among other things, assess the:

i) Theories of play and development as viewed from a gendered perspective,
including children’s versus adult forms of play;

ii) Gender, Sports and theories of Space in Development terms

iii) Traditional and Modern Sporting Practices – and the interfaces between them –
as viewed from a gendered perspective;

iv) Gender, Sports and questions of Audience and Participation

iii) Modes and patterns of the refraction of gender differentiation into local/global
sports governance and participation;

iv) The impact of global processes on local struggles for engendering sports ;

v) The Roles of local and/or global civil society in the mobilisation of gendered
development through sports;

vi) Sports, Gender and Work

vii) Dialectics of multiple identities and citizenship in the practice of Sports in a
global age;

viii) Sports, Gender and Violence

ix) The gendered aspects of Sports as Performance and Spectacle

x) Sports and the Articulation of gendered Identities – including national,
cultural, sub-cultural, and literary articulations;

xi) New forms of international commodification of players and their gender

xii) New forms of trans-national commerce in players and potential players and
their Development implications through the gender lens;

xiii) Sports as Global Business and Implications for the Developing world in
Gender terms

xiv) Sports, the Media and Gender in Africa’s Development

xv) Re-thinking Gender and Development in a global Sporting age: Alternatives
open to women and men in the quest for gender equality.

Scientific Report

December 30 2009