On Saturday the 24th of July, Badminton Asia Development held an online Gender Equity Summit to inform and create a discussion concerning the issue of gender equity in sports, and specifically in badminton. At the summit, there were 3 main speakers who shared their knowledge on different key areas surrounding the topic. 


  • Dr. Sharon Springer (BWF Senior Education Manager) on ‘Strengthen Gender Equity in Badminton Sport
  • Dr. Malini Karupiah (Sports Physician in Malaysian Government Hospital) on the importance of Mental Health in Sports
  • Ms. Mela Sabina (Badminton Asia Senior Marketing & Communications Manager) on Women’s Voices through Social Media


There were about 50 participants that also included coaches and technical officials, men and women, coming from different Member Associations who were also involved in the Q&A sessions. 


Below is an overview of what each speaker discussed during their presentations. 


Strengthen Gender Equity in Badminton Sport

Dr. Sharon Springer (BWF Senior Education Manager)


Dr. Sharon gave an amazing presentation to help start off the summit. In her presentation, she started off with ‘Why gender equity?’. Why was it such an important topic to discuss, especially now? Dr. Shared notes that gender equity is about being fair. If women make up 50% we shouldn't ignore that population and if you’re looking at only half the population, you will lose half of your talent pool. What’s also important is for us to know that there’s a difference between equity and equality. We should focus on ‘equity’ because in order to achieve fair results, we need to give each person/group what they specifically need to be at the level of everyone else.


The session then moves on to discuss “Sport for All” where Dr. Sharon engages with the audience to define who “all” was in the phrase “Sport for All”. The participants gave their answers through menti.com and various answers were submitted: some define “all” as including all gender, some define as including all age, another entry defines it on race. 


Despite differences in the definitions of “all” that were submitted, there’s something in common: the ‘sport’ goes beyond the court, players and the field of play, but also who is involved in the sport in general, such as those off-court: coaches, team managers, line judges, council members, even the secretary general. She notes that although on the court there’s been a lot of progress (ie. same court, equipment, scoring system, prize money, events, etc), off-court it has not been as inclusive. 


Dr. Sharon calls attention to different challenges that the issue of gender equity has and it’s all from top-down to bottom-up. 


As an example of how it is an issue top-down, Dr. Sharon mentions how there are a lot of male coaches and that helps young male players who desire to become a coach. On the other hand, there are still very few female coaches and therefore there isn’t enough for young female players to see and aspire to be. 


But the issue also starts at the bottom with something like the recruitment process, all the way at the top of the hierarchy with the lack of female council members on the job. This is why Dr. Sharon stresses the importance of planning: how gender equity must be integral to planning and not become an afterthought.


In the end, she says that in order to achieve gender balance within the industry, it’s a step by step process. One has to look at all areas to move further along, and questions must be asked every step of the way to ensure fairness in all aspects. 


2nd topic: Mental Health in Sports

Dr. Malini Karupiah (Sports Physician in Malaysian Government Hospital)


Dr. Malini Karupiah was the second speaker of the day and her focus was more on mental health and well-being in sports. She started off with a definition of mental well-being which states: ‘Mental well-being is a state in which an individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to the community’. A few years ago, and often now there is still a taboo when it comes to discussing one's mental health. However, that stigma is slowly but surely decreasing as more athletes such as Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps and more are openly discussing their mental health.


Mental health, Dr. Malini states, is deeply intertwined with sports. Being active has a huge positive impact on a person’s mental health as it helps reduce stress, improves sleep and mood, lifts self-esteem, lowers the risk of depression, and more. 


When it comes to athletes, dealing with mental health properly takes a lot of care, people, and preparation. There are a lot of factors that are involved and needed, for example, injury recovery and prevention, sleep and energy regulation, stress recognition and control, substance intervention and prevention, and more. All these factors are needed for an athlete’s mental preparation and performance. Without all this, it can lead to negative impacts on a player such as loneliness, trouble relaxing, concerns about weight, concerns about meeting high standards and so much more. 


Furthermore, Dr. Malini also shares with the participants in the summit that there is sex-related differences in the male and female body that affects the athlete’s in life, such as anatomical/physiological characteristics like female organs, woman’s smaller bone structure, hormonal differences, and body composition (fat, muscle mass) all differ to a male body. These sex differences can, later on, develop into issues which then become gender issues as a female athlete grows up. For example, at an adolescent age, the incidence of stress fractures is increased if estrogen levels are low, and this increased body image concern is prevalent and may be a barrier to sports participation. These are just one of several issues female athletes can face which can then become a mental health problem as well. 


During the discussion session, a question was asked: In regards to younger athletes not having the access to many of these mental health resources, maybe because of where they are from or funds, how can organizations help? What programs do you suggest? Dr. Malini stated that the coaching team and council members should always get feedback from each other, always keep in contact with MAs and athletes. She stressed the importance of constant communication with everyone involved surrounding the athlete. She also suggested looking through multiple sources online, where there’s a lot of access to free resources available to them.


Women’s Voices through Social Media

Badminton Asia's Ms. Mela Sabina (BA Senior Marketing & Communications Manager)


Lastly, the final speaker was Ms. Mela Sabina from Badminton Asia. Ms. Mela is an expert at Communications and the presentation focused on using the power of social media for the benefit of gender equity. According to her, social media’s role is so important in today’s world in fighting for gender equity. It’s a tool that can be utilised to fight for more fairness and equality not just in sports, but in all areas of life. Currently, in sports, there’s a large issue of imbalance and unfair coverage of female athletes in comparison to male athletes. There is a lot of unfair coverage related to their appearance, private life, and not who they are as athletes. With more women using social media and utilizing it, this can change. But first, we have to ask, why are women’s voices so needed in social media?


The first point Ms. Mela brings is that ‘Women Present Emotionally Richer Stories Through Verbal or Visual Art’. Since social media is about storytelling, women's voices are the ones that are able to shape the narrative into more wholesome stories. Women who write about women are able to weave in their own feelings and into the bigger part of an athlete’s story, and not just write something one-dimensional. The difference is also shown visually and in writing, with the different styles that both men and women work in. Typically, sport is associated with masculinity. Quite often we find social media design with masculine characters. Feminine design characters bring a different kind of emotion, a distinct and fresher look compared with most sport-related designs.


The second point she mentions is that ‘Women Relate Better with Women’, meaning that it’s about time that women define women. Female athletes often have to deal with many things said online in which male athletes don’t have to, for example, dress codes, equal pay, and their constant undervaluing in the media. It's easy to disregard these matters when writing a story on female athletes because these issues aren't always obvious, particularly to men. However, a female writer can relate better to female athletes, include these challenges as part of the athlete's success story, and therefore present the story better. By giving women more agency in what’s written about them, we can help avoid more stereotypes written online. 


Lastly, social media helps ‘Build communities for Women’. Historically, men have dominated sports. But with the rise of social media, it becomes easier and more accessible for them to have a safe space to discuss sports. In her discussion, she states that the goal of having more women use social media in sports is to encourage more women to play sports. Everything done and written online is then translated to reality.


The Badminton Asia Gender Equity Summit was intended to cover a good range of topics to discuss from strengthening gender equity in sport, to mental health and to women using social media. While there’s been great progress over the years, the issues facing these topics are still prevalent today. The fight for a fairer and more equal sporting world is far from over and has only just begun. 



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