“Sport is a very attractive tool for transforming gender stereotypes”

Born at the beginning of the Cold War, Dalia Leinarte witnessed the independence of her home country, Lithuania, in 1990. Having experienced it herself from the inside, she is leading the way to a better understanding of the Soviet past and in particular the experience of daily life by women during this period. She soon became a specialist in gender policy and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in this field in 2018. After serving as its chair during two years, she is currently a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In parallel, she teaches in Lithuania and at Cambridge University (UK).

Interview by Sylvain Landa

Portrait de Dalia Leinarte

Dalia Leinarte

What is the role of this Committee and in which areas does it intervene?

DL: Established in 1982, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is comprised of 23 elected independent experts whose mandate is monitoring and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, de jure and de facto. The CEDAW Convention is the only international legal document which covers the implementation of gender equality in all areas of life, i.e., in the public sphere and in the family. The Convention is in effect universal as it has been ratified by 189 State Parties. The primary task of the Committee is to engage in what is considered constructive dialogue with the State Parties and to make Recommendations for eliminating discrimination against women and improving their situation, to be submitted to their governments. At the same time, the CEDAW Optional Protocol allows the Committee to consider Individual communications in order to investigate cases of discrimination and violence against women submitted by individuals and/or civil society organisations. In addition, the Committee has a mandate to initiate Inquiry procedure when it receives fact-based indications about possible grave and systematic violations by the State Party.

Through Article 13, the Convention specifically recognises that women and girls have the same rights as men and boys to participate in recreational activities, sports and all aspects of cultural life. How do you judge the situation in the world on this specific issue of access to sport?

DL: It is important to note that the Committee itself does not collect and compile information. This is why, along with State Reports submitted by Governments, CEDAW experts use a variety of other official and confidential sources of information provided to them. Also, it is important to say that information about the situation of women and girls in sport received by the Committee according to Article 13 of the Conventions is often insufficient and therefore, when involved in constructive dialogues with State Parties, in many instances, the Committee is unable to formulate targeted questions and make specific Recommendations to improve the situation of women in sport. I became an expert of the CEDAW Committee in 2013. During this time, the Committee never once received information about sexual harassment/violence against women athletes. In my opinion, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could initiate the process of providing to the Committee information which is so critical for formulating CEDAW Recommendations. I therefore personally organised a meeting with the IOC regarding possible cooperation and provision of information. Unfortunately, further developments didn’t take place after my initial discussions with the IOC. Nonetheless I am encouraged by the dialogue between the CEDAW Committee and FIFA, which has been initiated, especially in connection to the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 competition to be held in Australia and New Zealand.

What is the situation in your country, Lithuania?

DL: I admire female athletes who are active in public life and express their opinions about political events and who thus actively participate in the strengthening of democratic processes. I particularly want to mention Lithuanian swimmer Olympic champion Rūta Meilutytė, who uses her platform as a celebrity athlete to denounce the war against Ukraine and who makes use of protest performances to call attention to Russia‘s military aggression.

Do you think that sport, in the same way as art or culture, can be used as a vehicle to discuss the fight against discrimination and violence, particularly with young people?

DL: There is no question that the impact of sport on children’s lives begins very early—even earlier than art or cultural life. Undoubtedly, therefore, sport is potentially a very attractive and effective tool for transforming negative patriarchal gender stereotypes and for inculcating in children the understanding of egalitarian gender relationships.

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