Caster Semenya is a South African athlete and Olympic champion. She is also a Black lesbian, an inspiring role model and a fearless human rights defender. Many celebrate her achievements however she has faced a 10-year battle to uphold her right to continue competing in women’s sports.
On 1 May 2019 Semenya suffered a major setback as courts decided the IAAF was justified in discriminating against her to ‘protect the rights of the larger group’.
The starting point for collective liberation is recognising and upholding the rights of marginalised people. In this case, the principle has been turned upside down. Despite other female athletes supporting Semenya, scientists rejecting the ‘medical evidence’ behind the decision and human rights organisations highlighting the significant human rights implications, the court decided that Semenya will be discriminated against, forcing her to agree to take hormone-reducing medication or to stop competing altogether.
The persecution of Caster Semenya and other Black women in sport raises many critical questions for our activism and our role as teachers: What is the ‘correct’ kind of woman? From physique to sexuality to hormones to skin colour to personality, Semenya’s right to be recognised as a woman has been questioned. How do devastating legacies of eugenics unfold in the treatment of Black people in sport? How are homo/bi/transphobia and misogyny interacting with racism and colonial legacies to create this situation where Semenya must endure invasive medical testing and involuntary medications? Why are Semenya’s unique and hard-earned abilities, skills and talents called into doubt while others are celebrated?
Black women in the UK are less likely to take part in sport than their white peers. How can we challenge these harmful legacies to make classrooms and sports grounds more inclusive? How can Black rights activists and LGBT+ rights activists educate others and raise awareness of these intersectional struggles? How do we all work together to ensure the rights of the marginalised are recognised and upheld?
Semenya has promised: “For a decade the IAAF has tried to slow me down, but this has actually made me stronger. The decision of the court will not hold me back. I will once again rise above and continue to inspire young women and athletes in South Africa and around the world.”
To support Semenya, you can sign the petition to the IAAF.
NEU members have a key role in educating the citizens of the future to accept people for who they are and to celebrate their achievements. The NEU equality policy team would love to hear more from you about what you are doing to support Black girls’ involvement in sport and to counteract harmful gender and racialised stereotypes in your education settings. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are an NEU member and would like to join the NEU LGBT+ Educators Network or the NEU Black Educators Network, please email us at email@example.com.