Byline: Patricia Babcock McGraw
Female athletes in this country are certainly justified to have concerns about Title IX and its effectiveness at promoting gender equity in high school and collegiate athletics.
But considering how poorly female athletes, and women in general, are treated in other parts of the world, Title IX issues can often seem minuscule in comparison. The fact is, no matter what's happening with Title IX, female athletes from the United States are still the luckiest female athletes in the world.
Look no further than the Olympics for a reminder.
There are countries (six for the Athens Games) that still refuse to send a single female athlete to the Olympics. Afghanistan used to be one of them.
Friday's opening ceremony marked the first Olympic Games for women from Afghanistan - a country that, until recently, forbade women not only from participating in sports but also from going to school and even showing their faces in public.
Afghanistan, which was banned from the 2000 Sydney Games because the Taliban prohibited women from competing in sports when it seized the capital city of Kabul in 1996, sent five athletes to Athens. Two of them are women.
Friba Razayee, 18, will compete in judo and 17-year-old Robina Muqimyar will run the 100 meters. Having had only months to train, neither woman qualified for the Olympics on her own, but the International Olympic Committee awarded the Afghans a total of five "wild card" entries to encourage future Olympic development in the country.
"My fighting is not as important to me as is my participating," said Razayee, who will compete in the 72-kilogram category. "I want to show (everyone) that Afghan women have a place in sport and set the example for all of them."
All the while, the women must adhere to several very strict religious rules about their attire. For example, Muqimyar will wear long tracksuit bottoms, instead of the tight-fitting shorts most Olympic runners wear, in order to cover her legs.
In most conservative Muslim countries - and Afghanistan is still one of them - women can participate in sports only if their bodies and hair are completely covered. Iran takes its restrictions a step further and prohibits women from participating in sports unless there are no men in attendance.
After the 1992 Olympic Games, Algeria's Hassiba Boulmerka was ridiculed at home after winning the 1,500 meters because she wore running shorts. The critics said she was "running with naked legs in front of thousands of men."
Surprisingly, Iran, which holds a Muslim Women's Games every four years that men are not allowed to attend, has sent women to the last three Olympics. Since men are in attendance there, the athletes must conform to an ultra-strict dress code, which severely limits the events they can enter.
In fact, since the Iranian women have been required to wear the country's bulky, traditional dress, which includes a hijab (veil) and chador (a black, all-enveloping robe-like garment), the only sport they've even tried up to this point has been pistol and rifle shooting.
Although, swimming could be next for them. The invention of the full-body swimsuit, which is actually meant to be used to cut down on water resistance, has opened the door for a Pakistani woman, who will be the country's first female swimmer.
Meanwhile, Muqimyar knows that in long pants she probably won't be competitive in her races. But at this point, she says she will "wear whatever they tell me to wear."
"The most important thing for me is that I am taking part in the Olympics," Muqimyar said. "I will be representing the women of Afghanistan and Muslim women around the world who have been deprived of their rights for so long. When people see the Afghan flag in the Olympics, I'll be proud."
Gaining at the Games: Although there are thousands of women participating in the Olympics now, such opportunities weren't always so plentiful, even for women outside of the Muslim world.
Women athletes were prohibited from participating in the first modern Games in 1896. Four years later, they were allowed to play only "ladylike" sports such as golf, croquet and tennis. As recently as 1980, only 21 percent of Olympic athletes were women.
Now, women make up 44 percent of Olympic athletes and compete in 26 sports and 135 events, some of which they had to fight for, like the marathon, judo, pole vault and taekwondo. This year, women's wrestling has also been added.
Women in wrestling: Females have been wrestling at the high school level for years. In fact, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimate that there are now 3,800 female wrestlers competing on official high school teams.
The numbers at the collegiate level aren't nearly as vast. Only six colleges have women's wrestling teams, but that didn't stop the International Olympic Committee from adding it to the curriculum.
About 80 countries now sanction the sport.
- Patricia Babcock McGraw's column appears on Saturdays. You may contact her at (847) 427-4454 or via e-mail at pbabcock@@dailyherald.com.