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When inequality is highlighted…the Internet stands up

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The world’s longest running professional surfing event went viral on social media this week – for all the wrong reasons. The Ballito Pro was globally slammed for the discrepancy in prize money between the girls’ and boys’ division of the Billabong Junior Series after a picture of the 2018 under 18 winners was shared on the Ballito Pro Facebook page.

Social media going viral

The picture showed the male junior winner, Rio Waida from Indonesia holding a cheque for R8 000, while the female winner, South Africa’s Zoe Steyn, held a cheque for R4 000. The Internet went crazy, with comments ranging from “it is not 1918, it is 2018” to “did the girls surf an easier ocean that we don’t know about?”

The Ballito Pro issued a response on its website, stating that prize money and rankings were determined by The World Surf League (WSL). “The Ballito Pro maintains its stance as a pro-gender equality competition, which is evident from the ongoing development of the women’s series year-on-year. Based on this commitment to equality, we are meeting with all relevant stakeholders to discuss how any potential discrepancies can be resolved going forward,” Collette Bundy, the festival organiser said.

While these sentiments are to be lauded, prize money discrepancy is still a common occurrence in the surfing world, as well as in a few other sports. Surfing the same ocean, with the same equipment and being judged on the same criteria, should provide for the same amount of prize money for the winning surfers, regardless of their gender.

This incident highlights the need for the continued fight against the gender pay gap. Earlier this year, UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed cited a report issued by the World Economic Forum (WEF) that stated it would take 217 years to equalise the pay and employment opportunities of men and women. “Most disturbing‚” said Mohammed‚ “is that this number has increased from the 170 years researchers calculated a year ago – meaning that we are in fact seeing the gender equality gap increasing‚ rather than decreasing.”

In addition to highlighting the reality of the gender pay gap, the Ballito Pro incident raises the ugly side of the conversation about how equal pay should be achieved. The male surfers had two additional heats as a result of there being more male surfers entered into the competition, meaning that the women surfed half as long over the duration of the competition. Some would argue that this should explain the discrepancy in prize money, but that would effectively be penalising the female entrants for the fact that they are a minority.

In all sports, women and men have different competitions in order to make them more fair. As a result of the different physiognomies of men and women, any head-to-head competition would place the sports person whose particular build provided a lead in the sport at an unfair advantage. For example, Serena Williams would be hard pressed to beat Novak Djokovic purely as a result of the length of his arms providing him with greater reach.

However, Serena Williams should – and does – get the same prize money as Novak Djokovic when she wins a tennis tournament like Wimbledon. Regardless of how many heats or tournaments she had to go through to get to the finals.

In a world where the organisers of the Ballito Pro didn’t notice that there was a discrepancy in the prize money (or perhaps didn’t care), the struggle for equal pay is a reality that many women face on a daily basis. Based on the reaction to this incident on social media, though, the days of unequal pay are numbered.

Image credit: Copyright: fgnopporn / 123RF Stock Photo

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