The move by athletics world governing body IAAF to have women with naturally occurring higher levels of the testosterone take hormone-suppressing medication — the ‘Semenya Rules’ — could lock out the crème de la crème of runners.
They include Caster Semenya from South Africa, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and our very own Margaret Nyairera, Evangeline Makena and Maximilla Imali.
Indeed, it’s double jeopardy for our athletes. Athletics Kenya dropped them from the national team to the recent IAAF World Relays Championship in Japan on the excuse that other team members had complained about their ‘unfair advantage’.
The ‘Semenya Rules’ have been widely denounced with the issue of gender discrimination being a major discussion. The question of IAAF asking these women to compete in men’s races hit a nerve with many asking for the same treatment for male runners with low testosterone levels to run in women’s races.
The issue of ‘unfair advantage’ evoked the comment that US basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, who towered over the elite NBA with a more than 30-centimetre height advantage, should have met the same fate. His compatriot, top swimmer Michael Phelps, is known to have uniquely long arms but, so far, there have been no calls to shorten them!
Women have had to overcome numerous obstacles to get into competitive sports. It was only in 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon, thanks to Kathrine Switzer. She had to endure harassment by a race official, something that these female runners now know all too well.
Semenya and many other women have had their bodies invaded by forced tests just because they do not fit the IAAF’s mindset of who a medallist ought to be. The amount of scrutiny they have gone through sets a flashback to Saartjie Baartman, the African woman who was taken to Europe for people to gawk at.
However, a recent report in the British Medical Journal indicates a lack of evidence about the effects of testosterone in the body and casts doubt on the reasons for the hormone cut-off set for women athletes.
The report says testosterone alone is not enough to define one’s biological sex or give women with high levels of the hormone an unfair advantage. It added that a small percentage of men have low testosterone levels and a few women have more of it than the rest.
Additionally, the World Medical Association, on its website, advised doctors not to implement the ‘Semenya Rules’ as it would be a breach of medical ethics.
As a country that produces top-class athletes who win almost every other international race, Kenya should have been at the forefront to condemn this decision to traumatise and humiliate its prized runners.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Five advocates gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. AK should stand by the runners, who are staring at a cruel end to their careers, and reject the ‘Semenya Rules’. We should boycott IAAF events until the rules are rescinded.
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