It’s been another day of thought-provoking presentations and discussions at the 8عشر IWG World Conference in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland.
The four-day conference, the largest in the IWG’s 30 year history and the biggest sports conference ever to be staged in Aotearoa New Zealand, winds up tomorrow (Thursday). The 1200 attendees on the ground and 500 beaming in virtually, have been treated to a plethora of information delving into some of the biggest challenges facing women and girls in sport today.
The challenge now lies with them to continue push for change.
Dr Payoshini Mitra was one of three on the panel for Raising the Global Game – gender equality for women and girls in sport, which was moderated by Kereyn Smith. For Dr Mitra, it was one of the highlights of her conference. “We had panellists from the United Kingdom, South Africa and India – that in itself says a lot. It was diverse and inclusive, and we were there as global leaders. It is important women of colour are acknowledged as leaders in this panel.”
And while there were plenty of positive steps happening, it came with caution.
“We are very grateful to the women’s sport movement and those who came before us, but at the same time I am very conscious the movement has largely been white and not global. Today’s panel was a step away from that and I welcome that.”
She says such diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be symbolic, but rather integrated into the whole programme of the conference and the wider movement.
“The panel is a great example, but we shouldn’t stop there. There is a need to always do self-reflection. None of us will ever be perfect, but to continue to try is important.”
Dr Mitra, who by her own admission was an activist and advocate, is now chief executive of the Global Observatory for Gender Equality & Sport. Badminton was her game but she walked away from the sport after negative experiences from an abusive coach. It wasn’t until she was at university that she returned.
“I wanted to make sure things changed.”
Her work morphed into supporting athletes who were being discriminated against, with her key area in those with innate variations in sex characteristics. She was a key witness for South African runner Caster Semenya at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and helped Indian athlete Dutee Chand regain her rights to compete in athletics, among helping many others.
“There are a lot of positives from the new IOC framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination, but international federations all respond differently,” says Dr Mitra. “I feel the issue gets an unnecessary amount of coverage.”
In her position heading the Global Observatory, she needs to look at all issues on equality for women and sport. “I strongly believe other issues need attention,” she says. “A lot of fear-mongering leads to prioritisation of things, leading to policies, but they are not as quick to respond to issues like sexual harassment of athletes which is a much wider problem.”
Dr Mitra has thoroughly enjoyed the conference “It is good to be in a feminist space. It’s good to meet everyone – all who are present here have done something beyond their own interest. These are people with a larger goal.”
Former New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith has been busy through the conference, presenting, moderating and more. “There is genuinely an acknowledgement that sporting opportunities need to be much more inclusive, diverse and responsive,” she says.
The day three panel had been about delving into how to contribute to changing the global landscape for gender equality, with an understanding there was a need for both individual and collective action.
“Motivated, inspired individuals can stimulate and lead change,” says Ms Smith. The big questions were around what needed to be done more and better globally. “There were certainly very common themes coming through with a unanimous collection of ideas and thoughts of what that needed to look like. Day three has been all about making meaning of everything,” said Ms Smith.
“What you could feel from the start is the concept of the structure of the conference being a social learning experiential format with the overlay of Māori culture. The was a real strong sense of manaaki, and that attendees have felt welcome. That in itself has enabled people to be more connected and feel safe.”
This afternoon 115 people headed to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Marae an indigenous-specific workshop.