Culture and Participation in Physical Education and Sport: The Case of Tertiary Female Students in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

Author:Mudekunye, Janet


Inspite of the efforts made by the Zimbabwean government to afford equal opportunities and access to both males and females in all spheres of life, the reality on the ground is that strong cultural practices seem to continue to cause limitations in the participation of female students in PES (Manyonganise, 2010). Many female students in tertiary institutions particularly in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe included, tend to be continuously encountering discrimination in PES participation which appears to emanate from cultural constraints (Daimon, 2010). For centuries, this unbalanced scenario appears to have been accepted by many cultural societies of the world as an existing fact. Research in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe included, uncovered that the participation of female students in Physical Education and Sport seem to be hindered by the perpetuation of cultural beliefs which are camouflaged in the African patriarchal philosophies (Manyonganise, 2010; Mangena, 2009). Thus, the participation of female students in PES seems is affected more than that of males. The female students must enjoy the same access and opportunities PES offers to develop their potential and possibility to earn a living from it. The African cultural philosophies among other things tend to cause discrimination which deprives female students of the many benefits which are achieved through PES participation (Kirk, 2012). This is all inspite of the national and international frameworks such as the Universal Declarations of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 which calls for everyone to have the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community (Article, 27) and conventions such as Article 5 (a) of the Convention on the Elimination Of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which calls for state parties to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women and to eliminate prejudices and practices which perpetuate discrimination (Kirk, 2012). Hence these frameworks seem to have accomplished very little in terms of eliminating traditional cultural practices that hinder tertiary female students from participating in PES. It is the purpose of this study to establish the part played by culture in the participation of female students in PES and the extent to which culture may influence the participation of female students in PES in Zimbabwe's tertiary institutions.

Culture plays an important role in the construction and maintenance of gender structures in every society and in turn results in gender stereotypes in many societies of the world (Manyonganise, 2010). This implies that cultural philosophies may influence the participation of female students in PES. In both subtle and explicit ways and in both developed and developing countries, female students appear to be continually affected by cultural beliefs of their societies in PES participation. What this may imply is that female students' lack of participation in PES in tertiary institutions may be hooked to certain cultural factors entrenched in cultural belief systems. These reinforce certain societal values and norms that place emphasis on issues of masculinity and femininity, thereby creating discrimination and gender stereotyping in PES participation in tertiary institutions.

Some of the cultural factors that appear to constrain females include matters on culture and gender socialisation in Physical Education and Sport, morality-Hunhu/Ubuntu influencing female students' participation in PES, myths about PES participation resulting in loss of virginity and sterility and beliefs about clothing for PES (Manyonganise, 2010; Daimon, 2010). For clarity's sake, Hunhu/Ubuntu is further defined as the quality of being human which manifests itself through various human acts, clearly visible in social situations as well as among family. According to sociolinguist Ubuntu Mfenyana (1986), "it runs through the veins of all Africans who believe that a person is a person through other people. What this means is that Ubuntu may be viewed as a deeply personal philosophy that calls on mirroring humanity for each other, inculcating qualities that become a way of life. Ubuntu can be seen in the spirit of willing participation, unquestioning, cooperation, warmth, openness and personal dignity demonstrated by the indigenous black population (Flippin jnr, 2012). In many tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe, females tend to have been affected and perpetually portrayed as inferior to males due to such andocentric attitudes that are hidden and rooted in patriarchal culture (Manyonganise, 2010; Mangena, 2009; UN, 2007; Zimbabwe National Youth Policy, 2000). Although other researchers attempted to research on related issues concerning, for example gender, sport and culture (Manyonganise, 2010), the patriarchy of PES (Kapasula, 2010) exploring the interface between soccer and gender (Daimon, 2010) and the gendered dimension of competitive sports in a multicultural context (Ramtohul, 2010), very little has been researched on the role played by culture on the participation of female students in PES. This has been the major reason for carrying out this research study which seeks to establish the extent to which culture may influence the participation of female students in PES.

Literature Review

Gender socialisation is a process whereby a person becomes a member of a social group or society, learning the ideal cultural content and modes of behaviour and as a consequence, internalising the culture of the society to which she belongs (Ramtohul, 2010; Haralambos and Holborn, 2008). What this might mean is that the pattern of life followed by female students in tertiary institutions across the globe may be determined by gendered illusions imparted to them by some members of their societies. Manyonganise, (2010) states that many societies all over the world have developed ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman. These have resulted in the loss of some fundamental truths about the inherent make up of females and replaced them with distorted views.

What this might imply is that these views that come as gendered illusions have contributed to mental capacities that affect the participation of female students in PES in tertiary institutions. Such mental constructs may shape female students' self concepts that may affect their behaviours and perceptions. This may result in the creation of an environment that does not allow the individual to view and accept herself exactly the way she is (Mangena, 2009).

Thus, cultural relations in society may be viewed as relations of power that are established at an early age. To this end it may contribute in shaping mentalities that determine the participation of female students' in PES in later life (Azzarito, 2004). In the context of this study, it may be therefore submitted that if parents are active in PES they may be viewed as their children's first coaches in the field of PES.

In the African Shona society, which is the dominant group in Zimbabwe, females tend to be custodians and gatekeepers of cultural values because of their strategic position in the home. This disadvantages them in PES participation. In the African Shona society, it is the responsibility of girls and women (females) to sweep floors, wash dishes and clothes, cook, and serve food to brothers, fathers and husbands while boys have little or nothing to do (Chireshe, 2013; Manyonganise, 2010). It appears as if the situation has been like this for years and is taking long to be resolved. For example, a research conducted on women empowerment in Zimbabwe, by Musingafi (2009:51) revealed that females in some communities in Zimbabwe are still expected to undertake most agricultural tasks and marketing, do all domestic work, grind by hand cereal crops, herd cattle during the summer month, take cattle for dipping once in every fortnight and guard against baboons in the maize fields. In most societies in developing countries, females, from infancy, are socialised to help their families in household chores and are expected to be submissive, innocent, more careful, and sexually quiet, learning the centrality of their domestic realm in preparation for marriage (Manyonganise, 2010). Accordingly, young girls may be usually conscientised to believe that it is their responsibility to carry out domestic duties and they may even blame themselves if they fail to complete the tasks delegated to them by their mothers (Rege, 2008).This implies that from a tender age, girls might not be given time to interact with boys during leisure time. Hence, this may be a limitation for them to identify PES areas they are talented in. It may, therefore, be deduced that although there are very good global declarations, conventions, organisations and policies that encourage society to recognise the rights of female students to participate in PES, gaps between female and male students still persist. Hall cited in Musingafi (2009) notes that laws and policies may be there but are still at loggerheads with practice.

In the Zimbabwean Shona culture boys may be given time to partake in leisure activities of their choice (Manyonganise, 2010). Society creates opportunities for boys to discover their interests and abilities as they play with plastic balls, run along the roads, swim in shallow water, climb trees and play with home-made toy cars and guitars made of wire (Manyonganise, 2010:15). On the other hand, the fact that girls are always at home makes them play with household toys like pots, plates, dishes and dolls as they imitate their mothers and grandmothers. Thus, in terms of PES related activities, girls may end up playing more of traditional PES games such as chuti, nhodo, chitsvambe and other minor activities which lack expertise, for they are discouraged from spending their leisure time playing outdoor games with boys. All this is done in the name of culture and could have contributed to the lower female...

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