CRICKET seems to have taken the lead in women’s sports in the region thanks to the overall mass appeal of the game. It is refreshing to see the Pakistan women’s cricket team featuring in mega events such as the World Cup, the Asia Cup and the Commonwealth. More importantly, our women cricketers have managed to earn the unequivocal support of the Pakistan Cricket Board, even though this took a long time coming. The PCB has awarded improved central contracts to women cricketers to narrow the monetary and other gaps that exist between them and their male counterparts. The media too now focuses on them with a regularity that was missing in previous days when sportswomen in the country found it difficult to earn recognition and obtain sponsorship. In a bid to take women’s cricket to every corner of the country, the PCB has expanded the network of girl’s academies across the country while organising domestic tournaments regularly to assess the talent pool in the country.

Having said that, women in other sports, despite their many international and local achievements, have yet to be granted a status similar to the one that women cricketers have now begun to enjoy. It is unfair that talented women athletes such as swimmer Kiran Khan, tennis sensation Ushna Sohail, martial artist Kulsoom Hazara, badminton duo Palwasha Bashir and Mahoor Shehzad, football captain Hajra Khan, race driver Tushna Patel, weightlifter Rabia Shehzad, etc are not yet household names like cricketers Sana Mir, Bismah Maroof and Nida Dar. Most of these sportswomen have earned laurels in international competitions and need support from the government as well as the private sector to order to perform even better. Sadly, this support has not been forthcoming. The challenges that women athletes must contend with are extensive and complex. They can range from struggling with identity in a society built on gendered stereotypes to protecting themselves from harassment at the hands of male coaches. Meanwhile, the lack of opportunities available to them to showcase their talent is frustrating. It is up to the government to nurture them by providing them with training opportunities and sports infrastructure. The number of women athletes in Pakistan who have turned in excellent performances at home and abroad over the past decade has been heart-warming. Now they need their endeavours to be acknowledged and the state to promote them as role models in pursuit of gender equality in sports.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020

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