Young girls must look up to Caster

LAST week we were revelling in a Cinderella tale of world-class athlete Caster Semenya winning the 800m at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships.

LAST week we were revelling in a Cinderella tale of world-class athlete Caster Semenya winning the 800m at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships.

The victory was remarkable because she had to run amid controversy that has brought into question how international sport views gender. Semenya, pictured, won the world title, but the IAAF asked her to undergo a gender verification test

She may not conform to the stereotype of what most women may look like, but given that there is no clear-cut test for gender and sex, the IAAF testing is highly invasive, physically and psychologically.

What I and most people do not understand is whether this test is going to be a gender or sex test. There is a difference, despite how media and conversations around the world use the two interchangeably. "Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, while "gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that society defines as being for men and women. Put another way: "male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories.

This whole spectacle seems to be a sexist and racist vilification of a young woman who has become a symbol of Africa's triumph on the world athletics stage. The drama is uncalled-for and the timing is wrong, particularly because it diverts attention from her achievement.

The problem is the kind of message this drama sends to fellow women out there, especially young girls. They should know that when they grow up, they can be whatever they want to be. They must know that they can be as smart, athletic and successful as boys.

The saga, if not handled with care, will teach girls that muscles and success are for men and only boys are allowed and expected to win gold medals.

Instead of dwelling on negativity, let's make this golden heroine proud by appreciating and cherishing her achievements. It is important, not just for her, but for our next generation of women athletes.

Muzirwa works for GenderLinks

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