This being International Equal Pay Day, sports women across the globe are starkly reminded that while there have been numerous concerted efforts to change things, the compensation gap remains deep and far-reaching.
A quick Google search reveals that the 10 highest paid athletes over the last decade are all men, and so are the top 20 and the top 30. In fact, the first woman to appear on that list, tennis legend Serena Williams, is 40th.
Back home, a 2017 World Economic Forum report shows that a Kenyan woman is paid Sh55 for every Sh100 paid to a man for doing a similar job.
The Human Development for Everyone Report released in March 2017 indicated that while women make up 62 per cent of the total labour force, Kenyan men earned an estimated Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of Sh350,715, compared to the Sh242,771 for females.
The GNI per capita reflects the average income of a country’s citizens. Things are slightly better in the local football scene where male and female footballers on national duty both earn Sh750 on local assignments, and Sh5,000 when outside the country. However, this tells only half the story.
Back at their clubs, from where they get their daily bread, male footballers earn up to three times more than their female counterparts on average, while many female footballers endure long periods of non-payment owing to a combination of issues including lack of sponsors for the Kenyan Women’s Premier League, poor organisation by the local federation and contempt for the women’s game.
Of the 16 teams in the Kenya Women Premier League (KWPL), only Vihiga Queens is known to pay players’ salaries consistently. The money comes from Vihiga County government, which explains why the team has been successful in the last few seasons.
Depending on the caliber of the player, a Vihiga Queen takes home between Sh23,000 and Sh30,000 every month.
So dire is the situation in the other clubs that at Oserian Ladies, players often have to work in the flower farms in order to earn Sh15,000 at the end of the month.
Because of these financial challenges, most players in the women’s league depend only on match day allowances, which can be anything from Sh2,500 for a team like Gaspo FC which pays the highest, and Sh800 for a Spedag FC player, whose team pays the lowest in terms of match day allowance.
“This is a dicey issue. Sports is one of the most high-profile, high-earning, most-aspired-to fields in the world, but it is also the most gender unequal. There is a need to lobby the salaries and remuneration committee to review the compensation of female athletes,” says Sally Bolo, who is gunning for the Women’s representative position in the upcoming Football Kenya Federation elections.
While Kenyan female athletes continue to shy away from speaking up on this issue, many European athletes have boldly made claims for better salaries, more TV time, better endorsement deals, better travel accommodations and overall better treatment.
But the swell of calls and fights for equal pay for equal play have always been countered by football administrators, many of them male. All over the world, the regulatory apparatus to address the issue of gender pay disparity is often highly contested and subject to parochial variation. This has made it difficult for the relevant bodies to consistently address the matter.
Many arguments have been advanced to explain gender pay inequality, chief among them being that women’s sports don’t generate as much money as men’s sports. Cynthia Mumbo, a former basketball player and the founder and CEO of Sports Connect Africa, agrees to an extent.
“Sadly, this is the plain truth. However, it is fuelled by a patriarchal culture that does not provide the same opportunities for men and women in sports,” she says.
“Those that subscribe to this line of thinking disregard the basic principles of economics. You have to invest before you can grow. Even the Bible talks about this. How can anyone expect women’s sport to generate as much money as the men’s sports when they haven’t invested as much in the women’s game? This attitude is uncalled for and needs to be disregarded,” Usher Komugisha, an award winning Ugandan sports journalist who is a vocal proponent of the women’s game, told Nation Sport from Kampala.
Another excuse by sports administrators is that women’s bodies cannot perform at the same level as men’s. Fomer Kenyan international Doreen Nabwire, the most successful female Kenyan footballer who has played for many clubs in Germany, has heard this statement many times, and she doesn’t think it holds any water.
“Female athletes do not have the same level of athletic performance as men but that is no reason to treat them differently. If Megan Rapinoe had a good season and a great performance at the 2019 World Cup that later saw her earn Fifa Player of the Year award, why should she be paid less simply because of her biological inadequacies?” she poses.
“I wish we could look at it from a positive angle. Our bodies can’t perform at the same level as men because we can do so much more than them,” Terry Ouko, a sports journalist and veteran footballer who currently features for Makolanders FC , said.
“Ever seen a man breastfeeding in the morning or carrying out all the household chores before a football match? It is only women who can play professional football while on their menses! This is an outdated argument and we need to demystify such ideas and work towards a more equal and inclusive world where men and women are paid not because of their body structure but because of their potential and achievements.”
And how about the long held argument that the physicality of some sports disciplines, such as rugby, makes them inherently less entertaining when women play them?
Fran Hilton-Smith, the former technical director for South African Football Association who has played every role in the national team (player, team manager and coach) thinks otherwise.
“I don’t think physicality has anything to do with it. Women display talent and skill as good as men and they put in just as much effort to win. I believe that it will take some time for women to reach the profile of men footballers given the length of time men’s football has been around compared to women’s football,” said Fran, who is a member of Caf Technical and Development Committee.
“Genetically women are wired differently, but that does not make them less competitive. I think this is just an excuse not to empower women from a society that considers women to deserve less in all spheres, not just sports,” says Mumbo.