With no physical activity, women live with a permanent ‘noose around their neck’

Image Credit: 'Mothers for Football' project of Travancore Royals FC and Sports & Management Research Institute (SMRI)

“An Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper”, said Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of modern Olympic games. But as the years passed by, female athletes all around the world could shatter this myth. Nevertheless, even when countries like America, China etc have seen more women coming forward to participate in the Olympics and other world championships year after year and also winning medals, Indian women are yet to open their eyes to a wide world around them.

As per Scroll.com, India could send only 53 female competitors to the Tokyo Olympics which is ironically less than the number of medals won by the American women. What’s more shocking is that, according to a BBC report in 2020, only 29%  of Indian women participate in sports. Have you ever wondered why Indian women are less involved in sports than women in European countries?

Besides, a survey conducted by BBC in India a year ago on ‘Are women as good as men in sport?’ found that ‘there were negative perceptions about sportswomen relating to their appearance and childbearing ability.’ Shockingly, this misogynistic attitude still echoes Pierre de Coubertin’s belief who in 1896 said “No matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks.” No doubt, the country is still living in the past. Do you think this scenario is something that happens only in sports? 

The answer is unmistakably a ‘no.’

According to the Hindustan Times health survey of 2019 organised as part of the Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAB) study conducted across states, 53%  of women in India are physically inactive and only 3% of women meet the minimum healthy levels of physical activity.

But, in a country where “just 30% of men regularly burn 80% of calories,” what more can we expect? People will get obese sooner or later as a result of their lack of exercise. “By 2025, 5% of Indian adults would be obese,” says a research report released by the World Obesity Federation which shows little hope for women too.

Let’s dig a little deep into what prevents Asian women from participating in sports. Are they resisting it or are they being compelled to take a back seat when it comes to any kind of physical activity?

Amazin LeTHi, a Vietnamese female bodybuilder, told metro.co.uk in 2020 that “discrimination and racial preconceptions are deterring Asian women like her from participating in physical activity —— and it is having a detrimental effect on their health.”

Is it the only stumbling block when it comes to Indian women? Or is it true that they have more to deal with than their other Asian counterparts?

In addition to the challenges experienced by Asian women, Indian women suffer a slew of additional challenges. For most Indian women, sportswear and swimwear are too revealing to practice in mixed playgrounds and mixed-sex pools. Even if they need to come forward, there are not so many female instructors to teach them.

Besides, the cultural restrictions stem from the long-accepted belief that women were designed only to perform domestic responsibilities is one of the biggest bottlenecks.

A report published in The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity states “South Asian women, as well as their families and communities, would view taking time out to participate in physical activity as a selfish act”. Hence, fearing the backlash from their own family and community, they chose not to exercise or engage themselves in any other physical activity that could change their health as well as life for the better.

“Out of 1000 women in India, a staggering 65% is feared of being judged on their appearance,” says a recent survey by edexlive.com. This fear of being judged on how their bodies appear in comparison to others prevents them from going to the gym or engaging in physical activity in public.

Another key factor is the lack of awareness about exercise. Doctors, health advisors, and other health experts provide inadequate assistance, making it difficult for women to gain information in this area although a study on ‘South Indian women’s perception of exercise’, initiated by the University of Nottingham tells a different view.

It says that ‘Indian women are aware of the need to stay active, but that they only do light physical activity rather than intense exercise’.

So, with all these emotional and mental burdens how can we expect more Indian women would come forward to participate in sports? They are struggling to undertake even basic exercise? Furthermore, even for men in India, sports are merely a means of securing a government job. So it’s satirical to ask women to come forward when the obstacles erected by Indian culture are much higher for women than the men.

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