By Breanna Morrow – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student
When it comes to gender equality, it seems as though we have made significant strides from the backwards views of yesteryear. Earlier this month, Canada’s Parliamentary cabinet was announced to include an equal number of men and women. This is important for a myriad of reasons, but as our Prime Minister most succinctly stated it simply matters “because it’s 2015.” Society seems to finally be embracing the ideals of gender equality. Unfortunately not all aspects of society can be said to be so inclusive. What government seems to have at long last grasped, sport still does not seem to get.
On November 3rd, 2015 Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to ever win the Melbourne Cup. What should be viewed as an incredible achievement and victory for women in a heavily male dominated sport is instead ruffling feathers. After her win Payne did not hold back, acknowledging the sexism that is prevalent in horse racing and even labelling it as a “chauvinistic sport”. Rather than celebrating her success, people in the industry, as well as those outside it, are condemning her words. There is disapproval of the fact that she spoke out strongly and told her critics to “get stuffed”. That disapproval is exactly what she is trying to fight against. Her hope is that her victory can have a positive effect for fellow female jockeys. She is attempting to draw attention to the very real gender imbalance in the hope that she can help fix it for others. It is a highly commendable pursuit and the backlash she is facing only highlights how common gender discrimination and inequality still are in sports.
Certainly horse racing is not the only sport that has recently had gender equality issues. It would seem plausible to venture a guess that some form of gender inequity crops up daily around the country from the smallest rec leagues all the way up to the highest levels of sport. Sometimes these issues reach such a vexing level that they find their way into the courts and tribunals looking for justice.
In 2010, women ski jumpers turned to the courts arguing that their inability to compete in the Vancouver Olympics, while men in the same sport were able to do so, was a violation of their Charter rights. In 2014, a group of the top female soccer players filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal because they were expected to play on artificial turf while their male counterparts would never be required to play on anything but real grass. While neither of these cases achieved the result they sought (the former failed due to lack of Charter applicability and the latter was dropped by the players), they still had the important effect of bringing gender inequality to the public’s attention. These cases made headlines and made the world more aware of the issues that women face when competing in sport.
While these cases and others like them are laudable for the attention that they bring to what is often an overlooked area, it is exasperating that they even need to go the courts to begin with. It should not have to be up to the justice system to fix what is systemically wrong with society. It is time for society to realize what is happening and be proactive. It is time that we stopped treating female athletes and sports as lesser. It is time that we listen to the advocates when they bravely speak out. After all, it is time for gender equality in sports. Why? Because it’s 2015.