Being a female athlete in Cameroon

I am a 29 year old Cameroonian basketball player who was brought up with Catholic faith and come from a family of boys. I am a student at the university and in my free time, a basketball coach. I typically dress in what is considered masculine attire (athletic wear) but I try to wear feminine clothing outside of the basketball court. I have a husband and a beautiful daughter.

Basketball has been a part of my life since I was a child. Both my father and brother are amateur players and allowed me to participate in learning this exciting sport. When I was younger, I was allowed to partake in the sport with the men in my family, however as time passed and I started to show a real talent, things changed and it became more complicated. As a woman, it was out of the question for me to make a living in a male dominated sport.

I hid from my family that I was secretly training with other girls and decided to join the basketball team at the university I was attending. Our team took part in national competitions and I was selected for the national basketball team in Cameroon. When my parents found out that I selected, my father panicked. He told me “You mustn’t practice this boy’s game. You won’t be able to get married, less find a job. My daughter, you must be a politician or a business woman, not a sportswoman. Sports do not pay in Cameroon”.

The women in my team have become my family and through our mutual support, we have been able to bear the insults from our families, men, male athletes and other woman who consider women in athletics to be masculine.

We refuse to accept the role in which society wants to limit us, but feel pressured to put on make-up, false nails, hair pieces, false eyelashes to conform to the feminine ideals and show that we are indeed women, especially when attending family gatherings, meeting government authorities, and engaging with the media or other sport players.

My passion for basketball has given me the strength to continue onward as I slowly work my way towards making a name for myself. This stigmatization has made me stronger and I am proud of my skills.

The world of sport is dominated by men from managers to sports clubs owners, referees, coaches, and even technical staff. Cameroon is no different. It has been duplicating a sexist mentality where men are placed in the forefront and receive national recognition, and women are left in the shadow. Most coaches are men and the only women who are part of the technical staff are doctors or physiotherapists. As a coach for young children, most of my students are boys so I try to encourage more girls from the neighborhood to participate. I embolden them to take the lead and to stand out.

The sports world was designed for men. I believe the only reason women have been allowed to participate is under the pretense of equal rights, however, there has been no consideration taken into account for female needs. The basketball stadiums provide no sanitary napkins for women and maternity time is not considered. The men who created the structure for women entering the sports field put no thought into any female related concerns on an administrative or financial level, in the facilities, or in basic logistics.

I wish we lived in a world in which men and women are on equal footing. Where we had the same opportunities for our choice of profession and women were equally represented in the highest echelons of decision making for sports, basketball in particular.

I wish that sports tournaments were organized regularly for girls and women to participate in Cameroon, and that female athletes weren’t considered tomboys but just women.  I hope to live in a world where the competitions that involve woman create the same financial revenue and national recognition as those involving men, and that families encourage their daughters to practice sports not only for performance but also for the health benefits.

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