Editorial | What’s Babsy’s point on the Eltham issue?
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, who has sport and gender affairs in her ministerial portfolio, has noticeably dredged up a more than two-year controversy over the barring of girls from a cricket competition for high school boys, without offering policy guidance on the matter or a constitutional argument for breaking the mould.
In the circumstance, Minister Grange should explain whether she was on a personal frolic, filling a gap in an off-the-cuff speech, or if her statement signalled a direction in which the Holness administration wants to go and on which it is eliciting debate. In the event it's the latter, there are serious matters of precedent, biology and constitutional rights to be addressed and its outcome would likely impact more than what happens on a school's cricket field.
The Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) runs sporting competitions in Jamaica's high schools, which it sees, largely, as an extension of the physical education and character-building efforts of its constituent institutions. Among the ISSA competitions is the Grace Shield, historically a cricket tournament for boys 19 and under.
In 2015, Eltham High in St Catherine wanted Rashada Williams to represent the school. It would have been the first time a girl had played in the competition. Girls, as Ms Williams had, are allowed to play in the under-14 and under-16 competitions.
ISSA said no. "Let's put it in perspective, this is strictly a male competition," ISSA director of competition, George Forbes, said at the time. But at a function last week to name Eltham's cricket field in honour of past student and West Indies female cricketer, Stafanie Taylor, Ms Grange chided ISSA over the Rashada Williams affair.
"... I am yet to get the real reason (why Ms Williams wasn't allowed to play) and I am asking the Jamaica Cricket Association to help and get the real reason," she said. The implication is that there are reasons, other than that stated by ISSA, for Ms Williams' omission. Perhaps it is that Ms Grange and the Holness administration want to correct an error perceived to have been committed when they were in opposition, as well as prevent the future infringement of people's constitutional rights.
Jamaica's constitution guarantees citizens "freedom from discrimination on the ground of ... being male or female," as well as places on "all persons" the "responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others". At the same time, section 13 (3) (e) affords citizens "the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association". The latter freedom presumably includes the freedom to fashion sport teams based on whatever criteria individuals decide, so long as that structure doesn't offend the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Conceivably, Ms Grange might argue that sex-specific teams infringe public policy, particularly in the realm of gender equality, and especially in institutions, such as schools, that rely on taxpayers' support for their existence. If that is part of her case, we look forward to its articulation.
It is noted, however, that globally, including in Jamaica, sport in which physical strength is a factor is differentiated along the lines of sex. It makes sense. Biologically, men, generally, are stronger than women. They generate more testosterone, which contributes, among other things, to bone and muscle mass, which translate to strength.
Of course, there are gender ambiguities over which scientists, sports organisations and their arbitrators have for years struggled. But that wasn't a factor in the Eltham case. Perhaps it is that Ms Grange is on to something of which the rest of us are unaware. In which event, having made her intervention, she is obligated to make us the wiser.