The Tokyo Olympics, a ‘step forward’ for gender equality?

The Tokyo Olympic games have been an absolute spectacle and the team here at SOCIALight Magazine have thoroughly enjoyed watching the array of events unfold on our TVs. This Olympics has felt very different to previous games though – in a way that we feel has been incredibly positive towards women in particular. The IOC has billed it as a ‘step forward’ for gender equality in terms of the range of events on offer and the number of women competing.

In this year’s games women will have competed in more than 300 events including the new mixed-gender offerings including athletics, swimming, table tennis and triathlon. As well as this, women have also competed in events that were previously only available to men including the 1500 freestyle, some events in the boxing, canoe, rowing and shooting competitions. New events were also shown in these games where women competed alongside men including in skateboarding, surfing, sportclimbing and karate.

“The Tokyo Games will feature the most female athletes at an Olympics, with 48.8% of competitors set to be women.”

On the flip side:

However, there have of course been some issues with these Games, as with Games in the past.

Starting with the President of the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee being replaced after he publicly suggested that women speak too much in meetings. Then in March, the Creative Director for the opening ceremony stepped down after it was found that he’d made insulting remarks about the physical appearance of a plus-size fashion designer.

“The Games are nearing gender parity for the first time, but a series of gaffes by officials and persistent gaps in the makeup of the I.O.C. overshadow the gains.”

NY Times

And as we listed some of the events that women are now allowed to compete in, there are still some events that exclude women. The decathlon and the 50-kilometre race walk are still only offered as an event for men to compete in… without an explanation as to why this may be.

The Sexualisation of Female Athletes…

As you probably heard, the Norwegian beach handball team were fined for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms which sparked a global conversation about whether the uniform for women needs to be reviewed. Continuing with the same theme, the German gymnastics team wore full-body unitards instead of high-cut leotards, a decision they made themselves… making a statement about the sexualisation of female athletes.

Mother’s Rights

There has also been a visible fight for female athletes rights to participate in the games after giving birth and whilst breastfeeding. American Olympian Allyson Felix is stepping up to help pay for childcare expenses for women athletes so they can participate.

Media coverage

Whilst it has been reported that coverage of women athletes has improved (the NBC coverage in the US has covered women more than men – however this may be because they have won more medals!) it is a long-standing issue that needs to be addressed. When an Australian champion won gold in a swimming event it was her swim coach’s celebration/reaction that was focused on more than the winner herself!

So whilst we have delighted in women succeeding and making huge steps forward in this Olympic Games, we are also seeing the ways in which real systemic change is needed to effect true equality in sport.

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