Gender Roles in Ethiopian Sports

From the messages received in the news and other media outlets, it is no secret that there are many countries and cultures that have differing viewpoints on gender and gender roles than most Americans. In fact, there are many countries where women have no rights or freedoms other than what men allow them to have. In others, women are considered to be inherently inferior to men and must act accordingly or face severe disciplinary actions. Ethiopia is a clear example of the latter.

Although the country has strict laws that divide appropriate actions according to gender, there are aspects of Ethiopian culture that have proven to be more contemporary, such as the world of physical education, where both men and women are active and allowed to participate. The Amhara culture, the dominant culture of Ethiopian people and politics, “is patriarchal and authoritarian, emphasizing the perceived superiority of the male of the female” (Amhara, 2011). Much of the gender roles in Ethiopia are centered around the cultural importance of bloodshed.

Much of Ethiopian folklore and cultural tradition centers on the idea of the Ethiopian man as a “warrior who vanquishes the enemy through the shedding of the enemies’ blood. In the same way that a warrior sheds the blood of his enemy…[women shed] their blood each month to remind here that she is the vanquished, the servant of her father and husband” (Amhara, 2011). The masculinity of the Ethiopian male is emphasized greatly in many physical education activities.

As a result of the militant and patriarchal culture, many of the sports are designed to emphasize the masculinity of male participants and allow them to demonstrate their athletic prowess and abilities. The traditional sport of ganna, which is similar to hockey, is thought of by many Ethiopian men as taking place on a battlefield, with side attempting to vanquish their enemy (Amhara, 2011). Given that the idea of the warrior is often to hunt alone, individual sports are often held as ideas of masculinity, and many Ethiopian men take these ideals to heart.

Male Ethiopian marathon runners are held as the pride of the country because they win many world and Olympic medals. It is considered a testament to natural Ethiopian endurance and overall superiority, and men take preparing for distance running as seriously as going into war. At the same time, physical education is not solely about continuing ideas of masculinity. Soccer, known internationally as football, is one of the primary passions of most Ethiopian people, and both men and women are encouraged to play it whenever possible (Amhara, 2011).

Adem (2007) remarks that “Ethiopians have struggles for years to include girls teams in a male dominated Ethiopian Sport Federation…” While men’s teams have enjoyed federal backing for decades, it has been slow to officially endorse women. However, Adem (2007) also admits that times are changing. Not only are women being allowed to play soccer as part of their daily lives, they are often recruited to represent their country in many international forums “Running Across Borders,” 2011).

Besides soccer, Ethiopian women are also prominent in marathon and distance running, and are not considered to be degrading themselves even if they participate on an international level. In an attempt to show the world the skill and competence of Ethiopian athletes as a whole, a woman who can excel at sports is pushed until she is the very best she can be. Female Ethiopian athletes such as Mare Dibaba, Mamitu Daska,and others are praised by their male and female countrymen because of the gold medals they win and the recognition they bring to Ethiopian women as a whole (Gebrehiwot, 2011).

The only limitation that they face is that they must conform to societal norms when not in the middle of their sport. Many of the gender challenges have come since the formation of the International Ethiopian Women’s Organization, which is aimed at erasing the divide between Ethiopian men and women around the world. They fight to make sure that Ethiopian women are able to access any and all resources that they need, including in physical education, where they have been instrumental in getting many women national backing as they represent their country “IEWO,” 2011). In general, Ethiopian society is very segregated along gender lines.

There is the ideal that the man in inherently superior and is the head of Ethiopian culture. There is also the idea that women are little more than second-class citizens whose major contribution is to give birth to more Ethiopian men. However, in the world of sports and physical education, this idea is almost set aside. While ideas of masculinity are strongly emphasized in Ethiopian sports, traditional ideas of Ethiopian femininity are temporarily placed on hold as women prove they are capable of performing well in soccer, distance running and a variety of other activities.

Even though traditional Ethiopian ideas of masculinity are not going to be changed, it seems that the traditional idea of femininity is growing to include of the idea of female athletic prowess. References Adem, A. (2007). Including girls soccer teams in Ethiopian sports federation of north America. Retrieved from:

http://www. gopetition. com/petitions/including-girls-soccer-teams-in-ethiopian-sports-federation-of-north-america. html.

http://www. ethiosports. com/2011/09/16/ethiopian-athletes-dominate-aag-marathon-races/

http://www. runningacrossborders. org/Traininginethiopia. html.

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