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Malawi Netball Icon Mary Waya Exposes Gender Imbalance and Pressures Faced by Female Players

Former Malawi Netball National Team captain, Mary Waya, has drawn attention to an ongoing predicament faced by female players in African netball – the conduct of specific male coaches. 

Waya, a former standout in the World Cup, has voiced her concerns that certain male coaches are contributing to an environment in which female players feel pressured into engaging in relationships in return for the promise of team selection.

The 55-year-old has highlighted that male coaches create an atmosphere that fosters uncertainty and insecurity among female players, emphasizing that this issue has persisted since her own days as a teenage player. 

Speaking candidly during a segment of the Africa Daily podcast, Waya underscored the challenge posed by the prevalence of male coaches in African netball teams, particularly for female players.

In her own words, “Most African teams have male coaches, so that’s the biggest challenge.” 

She explained that the gender dynamics between coaches and players can lead to uncomfortable situations. 

Waya: Many male coaches create unfavorable environment for players

“You will find that when you go to the competition, to the changing rooms, you feel insecure because of these male coaches,” Waya shared.

Waya elaborated on the dynamics, saying, “If they are female coaches, you feel safe because you have got a ‘mother’ near you. You know ‘I’m protected’. With male coaches, we always look at them as our ‘fathers’ and then they easily tell us, ‘I’m not your father – if you want to go to the national team, you have to be my [girlfriend], so that you can be at the top of the team’.”

Drawing from her extensive 25-year involvement in the sport, which also saw her serve as a commentator at the 2023 World Cup in South Africa, Waya expressed her admiration for the progress of netball. 

She witnessed Malawi’s impressive performance in the tournament, with the team securing victories over Scotland, Barbados, Fiji, and Tonga in the preliminary stages, ultimately clinching the sixth-best position in the world rankings.

While expressing her apprehensions regarding specific male coaches, Waya reinforced the positive impact of netball on players’ overall well-being. 

“It gives us mental and physical health. It shows us that we can be empowered and do things with our own mind and strength,” she said.

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