06.12.2019: Panel Discussion: Sexual Harassment of Women Doing Recreational Sport

On 06.12.2019 in Public Room, the National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in partnership with TAKT-Skopje held a panel discussion on the topic “Sexual Harassment of Women Doing Recreational Sport”.

                The panelists at the event included: Bojana Jovanovska – marathon runner, Edina Musa – basketball player and fitness instructor, Elena Zisovska – triathlete, and Leana Thaqi – triathlete. Some of the panelists are doing only recreational sports, while others are professional sportswomen. The speakers shared personal and their women colleagues’ experiences related to the challenges they are facing when deciding to start exercising – from the choice of clothes, equipment, whether to exercise outdoors alone or in company (friend/dog), to the choice of location (Is the place frequented by people? Does it have street lights?, etc). They also shared experiences like inappropriate comments, stalking (by one or more people), grabbing, etc.

Global research shows that one in five women has experienced sexual violence and sexual harassment at some point in her life, yet these phenomena are not addressed sufficiently by our state. As regards women doing professional or recreational sports, there are no detailed studies covering all types of sports, but the data available on the Runners World website show that as much as 43% of women who run have experienced sexual harassment, compared to the 4% of male runners.

No research on the subject has been conducted on North Macedonia, nor is there an adequate legislation and system of protection for women who are practicing sports and are victims of sexual harassment.

                Many members of the audience took the opportunity to share their personal and other people’s experiences when doing sports. The general conclusion was that sexual violence and sexual harassment are a daily occurrence. What is concerning is the fact that women doing recreational sports hardly ever report such incidents to the competent authorities, as they believe that the police won`t take appropriate and professional action, and may even mock or minimize the violent incident they are reporting.

                The discussion produced recommendation in the direction of decreasing and completely eliminating sexual harassment against both professional and recreational sportswomen. Namely, the main goal is for women who want to do professional or recreational sport to be able to do that without constantly fearing their safety.

                One of the recommendations was education from the youngest age (pre-school, primary and secondary schools) about the different forms of sexual violence and sexual harassment, including education which would encourage young girls to engage in sports. The next recommendations related to producing and adopting mandatory documents/rulebooks by the Agency of Youth and Sports which would regulate the prevention and protection from sexual violence and sexual harassment in the sports clubs. In other words, each sports club will have to closely implement these documents and engage a person of trust who will work with sportsmen and sportswomen alike for the purpose of recognizing and eliminating sexual violence. As regards the protection from sexual harassment and sexual violence, the participants recommended useful tools from the Runners World application designed to protect sportswomen. The final recommendation included measures for making outdoors sports areas (river bank, parks, sports fields) more lit and secured by higher presence of police officers.

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