When it comes to assessing excellent female sports players, “gender testing” seems to be common practice. And although society has quietly accepted this as the norm, there is procedure put in place to ensure that the testing is done in a dignified manner – which being asked to strip naked isn’t.
Genoveva Añonma, the captain of Equatorial Guinea’s national women’s team, recently opened up about how the Confederation of African Football (CAF) forced her to strip naked as a way to determine her gender.
The incident took place in 2008, after her stellar performance in the African Women’s Championships. “I had to take my clothes off for the CAF officials,” she told the BBC.
Añonma said she has never undergone any blood tests; the forceful stripping was the first time her gender was questioned by officials.
According to chief medical officer at Fifa Jiji Dvorak, gender testing requires a certified gynaecologist or urologist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist and a sports specialist to be present. None of these were present when Añonma was asked to strip.
Sadly, Añonma is not the only female athlete to have her gender questioned simply because she is gifted. The controversial examination has been commonplace in the sporting world, going back to 1968 when it was mandated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), ostensibly as a way to prevent men from masquerading as women.
Gender testing was however found to be discriminatory, and also to have caused emotional trauma and social stigmatisation, particularly for women found to have been intersex. The testing process mandated by the IOC was eventually found to be lacking in scientific merit, inconsistent and unethical. It was eventually abandoned in 1999. However, gender testing persists in some sporting bodies.
South Africa’s own Caster Semenya endured the same humiliation following her victory at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Berlin. When questions about Semenya’s gender were raised, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) took 11 months to clear Semenya, after citing that the demand for the gender test was to determine if she had a “rare medical condition” could be an advantage to her in competition.
Gender testing can be humiliating for women who dedicate their lives to sports. It is based on the premise that women are incapable of performing at the level of their male counterparts; when women like Añonma or Semenya excel in their fields, their womanhood is questioned.
Enduring unnecessary and invasive medical testing – as well as the speculation of sports fans and the media– is bad enough, but being asked to drop your pants in front of a room full of men is nothing short of criminal. CAF should be made to answer for its actions.
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