Two days before the Opening Ceremony, aboard a boat on the Thames, the European Women’s Lobby answered a definitive ‘no’ to this question at ‘London 2012: Justice for Women’. The event discussed the view that female athletes are routinely victims of gender segregation and sexual discrimination and that the IOC is failing to adhere to the Olympic Charter, which champions equality and neutrality.
In London, some progress has been seen with the addition of women’s boxing to the London 2012 programme. But there are many potential examples of inequality evident before the stadium’s flame has even been ignited: there will be more events and medal opportunities for men, and women can’t compete in the 50km walk or the Decathlon.
The European Women’s lobby says countries that do not abide by the Olympic Charter should be banned from the Games. Saudi Arabia has only sent two female athletes to compete in London and provides almost no sports facilities for women. Iranian women also suffer segregation and are forced up cover their bodies. Peter Tatchell, whose human rights organisation is a steadfast supporter of justice for women, was also in attendance and agreed that the IOC is being irresponsible by continuing to accept these countries as part of the Olympic family.
London has its own part to play if the Games are to offer a level playing field. The capital’s multiculturalism and cultural relativism are widely celebrated as a triumph of tolerance. However, the speakers were virtually united in the view that the melting pot that most of us take pride in is actually a hindrance – not a help – for women athletes coming here to compete from countries in which they are treated as second-class citizens.
Martha Jean Baker, Vice-President of the European Women’s Lobby, told Time Out that London should take a stand against the cultural relativism that is allowing countries to ‘get away’ with abusing women’s human rights. Tatchell said he is also ‘appalled’ by the lack of attention the discrimination against women is being given by the press, which is evidence of wider gender inequality. However the recent media furore over the respective decisions of the Japanese Football Association and Australian basketball officials to fly their women’s teams in economy while their male counterparts sat in business class could be evidence of progress ahead of this year’s Games. Natalie Gil