by Amaara Bhupathi Chadda

Steps Toward Gender Equality Through The Olympic Games

Among the various causes for gender discrimination over the ages, one that remains and we need to consistently recognise and alter is our societal mindset. A big contributor to the change in this collective mindset is Sport. 

The world connects through sport in different ways – starting from our playgrounds as children, to having it be recreational as adults, some even choosing to take it up professionally as a career, or just enjoying and connecting through watching our favourite sports players or teams battle it out in various tournaments or events.

The Olympic Games is the biggest and most connecting platform in Sport, bringing together almost all nations of the World to a single venue to play for honour and glory for their countries. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was born in 1894 and the first Olympics was held in 1896, with no women participants!

Women were first invited to participate in 1900 in Women’s only events in Tennis and Golf, and some women participating in the Croquet, Equestrian and Sailing events. The total representation of women was 2.2% with just 22 ladies in 1900. We’ve come a long way from there having had 45% representation with 5,059 women having participated in 145 Women’s Events (which is 47.4% of the total 306 events) in 2016 Games at Rio. Getting even closer to the Olympic Movement’s target of 50% women participation, we can expect to see 48.8% representation from women athletes at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. There are 5 new sports introduced at the Tokyo Olympics – Baseball/Softball, Karate, Skateboarding, Sports Climbing, Surfing – all of which include men and women participation, and contributing to the bringing about a completely gender-equal participation at the Olympics!

In addition to the positive trends in participation of women in Sport, the Olympic Movement also has consistently laid focus on women representation in decision-making positions in governing bodies. In 1981, the first two women were hired to be part of the IOC. The first woman on the IOC executive board was elected as recently as 1990. Progress through the years with women’s participation in decision making saw 3 IOC women Vice-Presidents, and all leading up to a stronger representation on the board today with four women members at 26.7% of the total.

A target of 30% women’s representation by 2020 had been achieved with 36 women out of a 100 active committee members contributing to the growth of the Olympic Games, as of January 2020.

In the latest big move to bring in gender equality across countries that may not have sent women athletes to the Olympics in the past, in March 2020 the Committee’s Executive Board put in place two key requirements for the Olympics starting with Tokyo this year – one of which is mandatory representation by at least one female and one male athlete at all Olympic Games henceforth, and the second which is a guideline change to include one female and one male representative to jointly bear their country’s flag at the Opening Ceremony. 

The commitment of the Olympic Movement towards gender equality is instrumental in worldwide progress on the cause, and also in encouraging separate Sporting committees to take up the cause at the level of their sport, all the way down to the grassroots level of participation of girls in sport at a very young age. We can do our bit to encourage women in sport by learning and participating ourselves, including our mothers, sisters and wives in the fun and excitement of sport, and also by watching the women at the Olympics with as much appreciation as we do the men!


Factsheet: Women in the Olympic Movement –

A collection of articles by the students of Ascend International School