As women’s rights, LGBT rights are advancing in the world, women are taking a larger role in sports. In Finland, the position of women in sports has been rather strong in athletics, in football even hockey. Finland is a nation that is advanced in terms of gender equality. If one looks at the crossover of minority women in sports, or immigrant women in sports in Finland, the discussion takes a 180-degree turn. Immigrant women in sports is seen as a field where there is a lot left wanting. The media discussions of immigrant women in physical activity are dominated by the access of muslim women to swimming. While this cohort is rather small, there appears to be 20 articles written for every single Muslim woman needing to swim in a special circumstance. One has to ask if this is all to it?
The trouble of immigrant women in sports is that the debate and discussions have been heavily tilted in the areas of barriers and inaccessibility. Also a sizable amount of discussion has been dedicated to the inactivity of migrant women in sports and physical activities. The representation of migrant women in this sector is one that is very passive and highly complicit to heterosexist patriarchic normative stereotypes of women. The distance in representation between the activity of Finnish women in sports and migrant women is extensive. This has severe consequences for the development of immigrant women in the realm of sports and objective representation. The engagement in sports by women has been shown to elevate their status according to the United Nations. Sports is constantly documented as a pathway towards empowerment for women. Its ironic that rather than become a sector which is used to discredit stereotype of immigrant women, it has become a sector to reinforce the stereotypes. While the inactivity of some migrant women in the field sports is concerning, the extensiveness of the discussion is negative, pessimistic and problem focused. Remedying this challenge is plagued with barriers, and possibilities for empowerment are elusive.
While I can take many turns in this discussion, and will likely do later on, I hope to focus on miss opportunities for an empowered representation of minority sportswomen in Finland. I recall a few months ago reading the October, 2012 issue of Fit magazine. I was surprised and pleased to see the magazine featuring Jasmine Showlah, a Finnish sprinter of Ivorian background who won silver at the Finnish Championships in 2010. I was disappointed though to see rather than telling her story, which I already find inspiring considering her feats, the feature decided to direct inspiration to her rear end, “Peppu kuin spintterillä/an ass like a sprinter.” There are so many paths one can go on when interviewing a accomplished minority women sprinter: having her serve as a role-model, being a minority woman representing Finland at a elite level, tips on how to be a better runner, on how to be a better sprinter, how woman can take a bigger role in the field of athletics. All this was lost in describing how important it is for a woman to have a proper looking rear-end. There was no opportunity for a voice to be granted to the athlete here, just have her serve as a model. To put yet more salt in the wound, the main feature of the magazine was interviewing a Finnish male rockstar on his yoga habit. It’s a shame when a woman’s fitness magazine fails to advance the case for women sportspeople, let along engage in such patrio-normative representations of gender in sports.
This is just a single case, but its one of many. Not only is there an active force of representing migrant women as passive, but opportunities to engage in a discussion representing the accomplishments of even minority women are overlooked. Women make up half the immigrant population here in Finland, they face a double barrier of not only being an immigrant but also facing gender based stereotypes, and not enough is explored on why this is the case, and not enough effort is being made to rectifying the representation.