Statement by UN Women on discrimination against female athletes

“Running in the face of discrimination”


UN Women expresses its strong concern that the recent ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on female athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone contravenes the international human rights norms and standards expressed in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution of March 2019 on the ‘Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Girls in Sport’.

Indian sprinter Dutee Chand was the first to fight a case against the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) hyperandrogenism rule and win. Now South African runner Caster Semenya has brought a case against the IAAF’s new limits on testosterone levels.

The requirement for such athletes to medically reduce hormone levels in order to compete as women plays into a discriminatory and stereotyped equivalence between testosterone, masculinity, strength and achievement that has been challenged by medical doctors, human rights, and intersex advocates, with the scientific basis questioned. The proposed method of reduction and verification requires athletes to take additional hormones with potential negative side effects. This process can result in further human rights violations, just as previous invasive testing to determine the sex of female athletes has done. This constitutes a dark chapter in the history of sport that should close for good.

UN Women underscores the Human Rights Council’s concerns about the exclusionary impact of discriminatory regulations, rules and practices on women and girl athletes on the basis of their physical and biological traits and the consequent reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes, racism, sexism and stigma.

We strongly support the Council’s call to Member States ‘to ensure that sporting associations and bodies implement policies and practices in accordance with international human rights norms and standards, and to refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures in order to participate in women’s events in competitive sports, and to repeal rules, policies and practices that negate their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy’.

Sport has an invaluable role to play in educating people on the values of respect, dignity, diversity, equality, tolerance and fairness, and as a means to combat all forms of discrimination and to promote social inclusion for all.  Chand and Caster are role models for all athletes, of all genders, showing with dignity what it takes to run in the face of discrimination—and to win.