Robust mechanism to address gender-based misconduct in sports imperative: SC judge Hima Kohli

 It is imperative to establish a robust mechanism to address gender-based misconduct as the creation of an inclusive environment sends the message that women in sports deserve respect and protection from discrimination and harassment, Supreme Court judge Hima Kohli said.

Justice Kohli spoke at a national seminar on ‘Women Empowerment through Sports’ on Friday. She called for policy reforms to promote women’s empowerment through sports and said such policies should establish mechanisms to address gender-based violence, discrimination and harassment in the field of sports.

“While judicial pronouncements serve as guiding lights, effective policy reforms are equally essential in promoting women’s empowerment through sports,” she said in her inaugural speech at the event organised by the Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi.

“These policies should examine various facets, including ensuring equal opportunities, providing financial backup and establishing mechanisms for reporting and redressing any gender-based violence, discrimination and harassment in the field of sports,” Justice Kohli added.

“Establishing a robust mechanism for reporting and time-bound redressal of instances of such misconduct is imperative. This includes setting up helplines, establishing independent statutory committees to investigate complaints and imposing strict penalties on offenders.

“Creating a safe and inclusive environment will send a powerful message to the entire society that women in sports deserve respect, dignity and protection from all forms of discrimination and harassment,” she said.

The top court judge said regressive mindset and cultural norms limiting the aspirations of women must be challenged, and added that it is critical to develop robust systems that support women athletes, ensure equal pay and provide them with opportunities to pursue their careers without financial constraints.

She emphasized that sports can be a means of economic empowerment for women as it opens avenues for endorsements and professional contracts, and stories of successful women in sports teach other girls the importance of teamwork, self-reliance, resilience and confidence.

Justice Kohli also batted for promoting equal economic opportunities as well as equal participation of women and bias-free representation in the media.

“We must foster an environment where women are encouraged to pursue their sporting dreams and reach their full potential,” she said.

“Sports can be a means of economic empowerment for women This not only provides financial stability but also contributes to the overall economic empowerment of women,” the judge said.

“We must invest in robust infrastructure and experts to foster an ecosystem that nurtures talent. Above all, we must challenge regressive mindsets and cultural norms that limit the aspirations of our women and girls,” she added.

Justice Kohli further said Indian women have “etched their indomitable presence” internationally from cricket to athletics and “we must acknowledge the challenges they faced and overcome”.

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“The Indian sporting arena, like any other, is not immune to the deep-rooted biases and gender disparities that persist in our society. There are several obstacles that have been preventing women from fully realising their potential,” she said.

The judge said it is now for the governments, sports bodies and all stakeholders to formulate “effective policies and actions” and “usher in a new era of equality where women in sports are celebrated, supported and acclaimed”.

“We must proactively create an enabling environment that fosters the development of talent and nurtures aspiring women athletes. A level-playing field will empower them to pursue their sporting dreams with vigour and determination,” Justice Kohli added.

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