Female athletes face various kinds of discouragement. Some of them do not experience equality with their male counterparts in terms of payment and respect, while others cannot do sports at all due to religious and cultural reasons. That’s why women all around the globe are happy to have these examples of five women fighting for their basic human rights through sports and showing them that the fight is worth it.
Abby Wambach is one of the greatest players in the Women football history. She was a true leader on the football pitch, leading the US female national team to many medals. She retired back in 2015 and moved to another pitch – the one where human rights battles are being fought.
Abby Wambach was never afraid to speak up. She was openly lesbian during her active football career, which was not common in sports then. Nowadays, she fights for gender equality through equal pay.
“Once I retired, I looked across the table and realized that I scored more goals than any man, but got paid so much less. Many women professional athletes have to get another job when they retire. I thought wow, I should have said more. I should have stepped up more,” she has said to UN Women. She may have failed to step up more during her active playing career, but she steps up now and inspires many other women to do so.
Hajra Khan is a football player like Abby Wambach with a completely different fight for human rights. While her US colleague fights for equal pay among men and women in sports, she fights against the prejudice towards women doing sports. In Pakistan, her home country, women are not encouraged to practice sports. Even the few ones that do are discouraged from doing it.
That’s where Hajra serves as an inspiring example for other women in her country. She is the captain of the Pakistan women’s national football team and the first one from her country to play professionally abroad. She has struggled a lot to reach success due to the prejudice against women in sports.
“It’s not easy for women in Pakistan to pursue their dreams because of social pressures and unacceptability from people around us. There’s still prejudice and that resistance regarding women, not only on female football but in various activities,” she has said to UN Women. “It’s been a tough journey but I’ve fought stereotypes and broken any barriers that came in my way and proved that a female in Pakistan, with hard work and determination, can achieve more than any man has in this ‘male-dominated sport’ up until now,” she concludes.
This brave young woman managed to soften her prejudiced compatriots on women issues, showing that anyone who puts in the effort can do the same.
Like Hajra Khan, Maria Toorpakai breaks gender taboos in Pakistan, but her life story is filled with way more drama. She has always felt and dressed like a boy, which helped her get into a squash team run by the Pakistani Air Force in her pre-puberty years. As soon as others learned about her true gender, she was bullied heavily but it only made her stronger.
Maria kept playing squash under the guidance of her supportive coach and entered professional competitions in no time. Then she started drawing attention from her conservative environment. Everyone around her was wondering what a woman was doing in sports. Taliban was wondering the same and even threatened her and her family with “dire consequences” if she didn’t stop playing immediately. Of course, she didn’t stop, but the Pakistani Squash Federation had to secure her matches properly.
The threat mails continued to arrive at her home address, however, and Maria decided to stop training, at least publicly. All the training she had was hitting the squash ball against the wall of her bedroom. In the same period, she was trying to escape from her country in any way she could. She applied for as many scholarships as she could and sent countless number of emails to sports clubs in the USA and Canada. After four years, Canada champion Jonathon Power responded back and helped her immigrate to Canada where she could practice and play without worrying about her safety.
Stela Savin is a boxer from Moldova. This small Eastern European country doesn’t produce many boxing aces, not to mention female boxers. But, being a woman is not the only hurdle she needs to overcome. She belongs to the Roma community, where a girl’s destiny is decided right upon birth – she has to get married, preferably during her teenage years, and be a housewife. This often means leaving school too early in life. Stela, however, has different plans. She wants to study and to become a world-boxing champion.
“I am honoring our Roma traditions. I am never going to abandon them. However, I don’t want to leave school and training and get married. I have a dream and I am going to do all I can to make it happen. I don’t know why girls think they can’t do the same as boys do?”, she told UN Women.
Back in 2014, the Athletics Federation of India banned their track and field athlete Dutee Chand from competing in the Commonwealth Games due to high testosterone level. She wasn’t taking exogenous testosterone. It has been produced in her body naturally. Yet, she couldn’t compete. According to the Indian Athletics Federation back then and the International Athletics Federation nowadays, high testosterone levels give women an unfair advantage over other female athletes, and therefore they should be taking medications to lower it.
She didn’t back off. Instead, she took the case to court and won. The court stated that the case against Chand was based on a bad science and allowed her to compete. “I was born a woman and raised a woman. Why should I change?”, she said.