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International Women’s Day 2024: Rugby As Pathway Forward – Rugby Africa President

Elevating women in sports, nurturing their talents, and empowering them to lead not only enriches the sporting landscape but fosters a more inclusive and equitable society for all

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, March 7, 2024

Herbert Mensah, President, Rugby Africa

By President of Rugby Africa, Herbert Mensah

Friday, March 8 marks International Women’s Day. According to a recent publication by the United Nations, 340 million women and girls will be living in extreme poverty by 2030. The importance of gender equality and the well-being of women in today’s world cannot be overstated. This year’s theme, “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”, resonates deeply, urging us to take joint action to empower women and foster inclusive societies. As the President of Rugby Africa, the continental governing body of rugby in Africa, I believe Rugby can provide a pathway to create the next generation of empowered women.

Gender equality is not just a women’s issue; it is everyone’s business. It stands as one of the greatest human rights issues of our time, impacting individuals, families, communities, and societies at large. Investing in women is not merely a moral imperative but also a cornerstone for building successful and inclusive societies. Through the empowerment of women, organizations can tap into a wider pool of talent, ultimately driving economic growth. By ignoring the imperative for gender equality, Africa would forfeit its growth potential, denying excluded women the opportunity to contribute to the continent’s progress. Gender equality benefits society, driving economic growth, social cohesion, and long-term sustainable development.

ESPN reported that 80% of female Fortune 500 CEOs played sports in their formative years, which emphasizes the profound impact of early exposure to sports on women’s development. This is a testament to the invaluable skills cultivated from sports, skills that resonate far beyond the court or field. Unlike other sports, Rugby plays a significant role in fostering inclusion. On the Rugby Pitch, every individual, regardless of size or shape finds purpose and belonging. For example, in the South African women’s national rugby team, where players exhibit a remarkable 33 cm height differential from the shortest to the tallest player, and a significant 61 kg weight gap separates the lightest from the heaviest members. When compared to the realm of football, the contrast becomes even starker. The South African women’s national football team boasts a considerably more consistent size and shape among its players, with a mere 12 cm height range and a modest 27 kg weight variance. This exemplifies rugby’s unique inclusivity, where players of diverse physical attributes unite as a cohesive team. Rugby’s embrace of diversity, turning differences into strengths has the powerful impact of breaking down the societal norms that women are often subjected to. The sport nurtures a profound sense of confidence and self-worth, fostering long-term empowerment.

In addition to the inclusive landscape, Rugby isn’t just about scoring points; it’s about instilling values that echo far beyond the pitch. The values of rugby such as teamwork, unity, integrity, passion, solidarity, and discipline serve as cornerstones for personal and professional development, shaping girls into resilient leaders capable of navigating the complexities of modern society. Women in rugby are not just athletes, they are leaders in the making, ready to seize opportunities and contribute to their communities. With a foundation rooted in these principles, women are empowered to break through barriers and reshape the traditional notions of success.

An investment in Rugby across Africa is an investment in a safe and empowered space where young girls can flourish. It is about equipping them not just to survive, but to thrive, leveraging their innate strength, character, and determination to reach their fullest potential. Together, through increased funding in Rugby, we can collectively work to eliminate gender bias, increase the visibility of women in rugby through media coverage, and expand competition structures to warmly embrace women. Elevating women in sports, nurturing their talents, and empowering them to lead not only enriches the sporting landscape but fosters a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

We must collectively encourage stakeholders to join this mission, recognizing that the benefits extend to us all. Aligned with pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as Rugby Africa President, I am deeply committed to cultivating environments that empower future female executives, athletes, and entrepreneurs. This journey begins now, with an investment into Rugby as a pathway to empower the next generation of women. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us take pride in our commitment to supporting women, knowing that their success enriches us all. Together, let us continue to champion equality, diversity, and inclusion ensuring that every young girl has the opportunity to succeed.

We all have mothers, some are blessed to have sisters and for those fortunate enough, they have daughters.