Gender, Interculturalism, and Discourses on Women's Leadership in the Olympic Movement

By Chin, Yi Wen; Henry, Ian et al. | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Gender, Interculturalism, and Discourses on Women's Leadership in the Olympic Movement


Chin, Yi Wen, Henry, Ian, Hong, Fan, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


In relation to the first of these groups, female Olympic leaders in Muslim countries, the paper seeks to highlight the implications of Huntington's influential model of the world (2) as made up of separate and competing civilisational blocks, arguing that this interpretation is both erroneous and dangerous. The paper argues that although there may be differences between what are labelled 'Muslim' countries (even self-ascription of such labels de-emphasises the presence of Islam in 'western' nation states) nevertheless to explain such differences by reference to religion rather than by reference to local cultures is problematic.

There are perhaps two principal objections to the 'religion-blaming' strategy. The first is that (in the context of the Women and Leadership study) it is not only Muslim societies which manifest gender inequity. When such gender inequity is present in Western societies, academic analyses tend to explain this by reference to the concept of patriarchy, but when it is present in Muslim societies it tends to be explained by western commentators by reference to religious practice. Such an argument applies double standards, and leaves proponents open to the charge of Orientalism.

The second objection is that it assumes there is some uniformity of approach to women's roles within and between Muslim societies. This simply is not the case. Studies such as Afshar's, Karam's, and Al-Ali's (3) show how, even in 'conservative' contexts (Iran and Egypt respectively), different forms of feminism are evident, warning against a simplistic notion of a single unitary perspective on the appropriate roles for women in wider society. This is reflected also in the Women and Leadership in the Olympic Movement study in which two countries which are members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (Iran and Gambia) exhibited levels of female membership of NOC Executives which were more than double the average for all countries. A diversity of interpretation in the responses of female Muslim interviewees was also very evident in the qualitative data for the study, in relation to the issue of women's sporting dress. The paper seeks to illustrate how these interpretations map effectively onto the threefold typology of feminism articulated by Azza Karam in relation to Egyptian society, namely 'Islamist feminism', 'Muslim feminism', and 'secular feminism'. Although all three address gender inequity, they do so on the basis of very different analyses of the causes of such inequity, and of the potential solutions.

Religious World Views and Gender Equity in Olympic Sports Leadership

The study of Women and Leadership in the Olympic Movement was an evaluation of the introduction of targets by the IOC in terms of women's involvement in executive decision making in Olympic bodies. Specifically, the study sought to identify the factors relating to the achievement of the target of having women as at least 10% of NOC Executive Committee members by December 2001 and at least 20% by December 2005. The methods involved a questionnaire sent to all Secretary Generals of National Olympic Committees, and to all female members of NOC Executives, together with interviews conducted with approximately one in eight of all Secretary Generals (n=24) and of all women NOC Executive Committee Members (n=30). The use of mixed methods here allowed us to investigate aspects of the current situation in each of the NOCs (quantitative and qualitative questionnaire responses) as well as the discursive construction of the problem, its 'causes' and potential policy solutions among male and female interviewees. For the purposes of the current discussion, commentary will be restricted to the issue of religious world views and gender equity and specifically to the representation of Muslim women in NOC Executive Committees.--Specifically in this discussion we will address three issues:

* (inter-) relationships between cultures, and in particular the problems deriving from treatment of cultures as essentially incompatible;

* deconstructing western perspectives relating to the place of non-western women in a global movement;

* the establishing of a consensus on the ethical dimension and the place of discourse ethics in achieving inter-cultural understanding. …

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Gender, Interculturalism, and Discourses on Women's Leadership in the Olympic Movement
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