Women are going places today, crossing life-altering hurdles. Is this commendable or a classic conundrum of how women are expected to struggle and make their way through while society does the bare minimum? While that’s a subject for open interpretation, we bring you insights into a discussion with Aparna Popat, a former badminton player, recipient of the Arjuna Award, medallist in the Commonwealth Games and a woman with many more feathers in her cap.
“It was a matter of numbers after all, and for me, it was the scores in matches.”
A quick-witted reply from Aparna when asked if a profession as a CA or CS was ever in question, given the fact that she hails from a Gujarati family. Elaborating on similar prejudices she says, “When you are young you do not face the brunt of it. But, I am sure my family did.” “My mother would often be at the end of sneers and jibes for encouraging me on my venture into sports,” she recalls. Evidently, like most, Aparna and her family too faced the jolts of society witnessing a woman excel in a male-dominated career path.
“People generally feel that women’s sports are not as attractive as men’s sports. Girls don’t play as well – they don’t jump, dive and smash.”
Enlightening us further on women’s discrimination in the sports ecosystem, Aparna continues, “Opportunity bias is common on a broad level. During team selection, more males were selected over females. All the new stuff in terms of equipment, preferential practice timings, and visibility in the media was given to the boys. We have often settled with the leftovers.”
“Girls can’t afford to be finicky. They are here to perform and that should be their sole goal.”- a striking message by Aparna Popat.
“Sports is about being tough and it’s gender agnostic,” adds KelpHR CEO & Co-Founder Smita Shetty Kapoor in agreement. Being an introvert, Aparna has often come across self-doubt. “Being in self-doubt is emotionally pressuring. You cannot afford to express it or be vulnerable about it as you do not want your opponents to sense it,” says Popat. Leaving no room for self-pity, she has always managed to put up a brave front. “Win or lose, you need to be accountable for it and find a solution. There is no room for excuses,” she continued.
“Generally, discrimination comes from the men in the field. But that’s never been the case in my closest circle,” gratifies Aparna. Sharing some insights on her support system from her coaches she shares, “All my coaches male or female, were respectful and protective towards women and their stance in sports. But if you take a step back and look at the larger ecosystem, women’s discrimination was ubiquitous back then.”
“It’s hard to imagine a sportsperson coming without infrastructure. But it’s harder to imagine them without a good coach,” highlights Aparna.
On being asked about the importance of infrastructure Aparna suggests that in her opinion, the people are more important. Speaking of the former, she says that its practicality, safety, and hygiene are of utmost importance. “No colossal, fancy infrastructure can top that,” she asserts.
“I have tried to tackle discrimination in sports with my performance.”
During her tenure as a badminton player, she has often seen men get more preference in a selection over women. Hence, showcasing her best game time and over was her only way of proving her worth. Winning nationals nine times in a row, consecutively equaling Prakash Padukones’ record, first Indian to win the World Junior Championship- was Aparna’s way to get to grips with discrimination against women in sports.
“Sport belongs to everyone,” her message to every sports aspirant out there.
“You have to be tough. Do not expect to be treated specially or even fairly all the time. You have to be resilient and determined on the court.” Adding to her parting words, she gives us insights into the impact of government policies on sports – “India is still trying to develop sports culture and they are doing their bit by bringing in policies like Fit India Movement and Khelo India Games. Single legislation can be influential. But it has to be implemented strictly.”
International Women’s Day Summit – Shakti
The celebration of Women’s Day 2021 at KelpHR was marked by a panel of influential individuals who came forward for a forthright discussion on the matter of global importance – women’s empowerment – a subject matter that is far from saturation. Gender discrimination, hostile workplace environment, disability rights and quantitative solutions and more were a part of one of these dialogues and panels at the IWD 2022 – Shakti by KelpHR.
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