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Call for Justice for South Africa's Golden Girl

As we reflect on Workers' Day today, 1 May, it is ironic that one of our most successful athletes’ career hangs in the balance because of the discrimination she has had to endure in the world of sport based on her classification as an intersex person. Socially, her dignity has been targeted on account of her lesbian sexuality and masculine gender expression. From high hopes to shattered dreams! Today we have experienced a major setback in the ‘so-called' era of advancing human rights and respect for diversity, globally.

Despite the uncontested resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the discriminatory regulations for women in sport and the waves of support Caster Semenya received as an athlete who happen to be intersexed and gender diverse, once again the world of sport has showcased its inability to at the very least accommodate bodily diversity without compromising talent and excellence. 

As Gender Dynamix, we empathize with Caster and many intersex persons in sport as we have also recognized and experienced the erasure and dehumanisation as trans and gender diverse persons in sport. Caster has been a true champion in leading a struggle in the name of gender justice and respect for bodily diversity.

The outcome by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is a major setback in the struggle of upholding the human rights to dignity, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy of Caster Semenya and now has ramifications for how similar matters may be dealt with in future. Aside from the fact that the outcome not only disregard the diverseness of human bodies and womxn bodies it also legitimizes discrimination on the grounds of sex and bodily characteristic by reinforcing strict binary understandings of what it means to be 'male' or 'female' in sport. Underscoring this differentiation it also entrenches rigid sexist understandings of what it means to be a ‘woman’ or ‘man’. At the heart of the judgement it seeks to dehumanize and erase anyone and everyone that does not fit neatly into static, rigid and patriarchal medical definitions of human bodies.

Aside from the direct impact that this has on Caster's career and her sense of humanity and dignity it is also undoing a lot of the work that human rights, social justice and gender justice activists and institutions have fought long and hard for. This case is testimony that patriarchy, sexism, racism and queerphobia is alive and flourishing in the sporting world.

Historically, it is a well known fact that the International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) has come under fire over the last couple of years but more recently for the Regulations drafted regarding athletes with high levels of testosterone in their bodies. Semenya was put under scrutiny following her emphatic victory at the World Championships, ultimately winning gold for the 800 m race in 1:55,4m.

Subsequently, the IAAF requested Semenya to undergo a sex verification test to ascertain whether she was medically and biologically classified a “woman”.  Caster Semenya has been medically classified as Intersex, subsequently Semenya’s right to privacy was violated as the results of the test was leaked to the media. The term intersex is commonly used to describe individuals who have variations in their sex characteristics which may include gonads, genitalia, sex hormones or chromosomal variations.

In an attempt to regulate sexual variations, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for classification for the respective athletic events. This subsequently means that women who have a variation in sexual development need to meet certain requirements prior to competing in any event.

The athlete to compete must be legally recognised as a women or intersex, they would be compelled to have their testosterone levels below (5)nmol/L for a period of at least six months and therefore have to maintain those respective levels to remain eligible to compete. Athletes who do not wish to medically reduce their testosterone levels will be eligible to compete as follows:

1. Female Classification

  • May compete in competitions that are not recognised as International included those restricted events

  • International competitions including except those restricted events

2. Male Classification (will be classified male)

  • May compete in all events including International and National

3. Intersex Classification

  • May compete in all events including restricted events

The Republic of South Africa’s Sports Ministry have come in in full support of Caster Semenya’s legal battle against the New Regulations. It is reported that the Department of Sport and Recreation have spent R25 million towards the respective Legal woes at the CAS.  Gender Dynamix commends the department for sticking with Caster through this exceptionally challenging time.

We also want to appeal to states to implement measures that will protect the rights of all people who find themselves on the margins of sport on account of their sexuality, gender identity and bodily characteristics. It is of great importance that a modern democracy be built on principles of Intersectionality, Human Rights, Social Cohesion, Bodily Autonomy and Social Justice.  In understanding, unpacking and addressing Social Justice issues, one needs to grapple with diversity, intersectionality, power and privilege and lastly equity and justice.

As we take the outcome in our stride we remain resolute that the fight for justice is not yet over. Now more than ever we turn our gaze collectively to the world of sport to ensure that bodies accountable for perpetrating gross human rights violations are brought to account. The day we accept injustice as civil society and progressive institutions will be the day when patriarchy, sexism, queerphobia and racism wins outright. The struggle continue but we are ready as we stand in solidarity with our trailblazing role model, Caster Semenya.

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