Women's Day wish: A change from 'What more do you want?' to 'What do you need?"

'What more do you want?' This line is thrown every time women in sport dare to ask for something different, demand what should be an equal right or hope for a change. ESPN

In the first month of this new year, India's top wrestlers sat in protest against alleged sexual harassment and mental abuse from the federation chief.

Sakshi Malik has been on an Olympic podium, Vinesh Phogat has won a World Championship medal and here they were on the streets demanding change in one of the most high-profile protests in Indian sport.

In taking a stand against a powerful administrator - who also happens to be a Member of Parliament from the ruling party - these wrestlers undertook perhaps their biggest career risk, something that should have shaken the system.

And what did they get?

They got a meeting with the Sports Minister, and an inquiry committee, whose deadline has been extended. They got headlines and primetime coverage. They managed to make a mark.

What more do you want?


"What more do you want?"

This line is thrown every time women in sports ask for something different, demand what should be an equal right or hope for a change.

You now have more media coverage, some of your matches are on TV, we hosted tournaments for you at home, your pay has increased, you are in ads now...

What more do you want?

Safety and safeguards from sexual misconduct

Before the wrestlers, there was another case that should have shaken the Indian sport system to the core. Alex Ambrose - assistant coach of India's Under-17 women's football team and the AIFF's head of scouting in India - was sent back from an overseas tour with the team and sacked on charges of sexual misconduct. This happened just months before India were to host the women's U-17 FIFA World Cup - a rare opportunity for Indian women footballers to play at the highest level.

This was a man in charge of scouting young talent, travelling with a group of minor girls on national duty. A prominent figure in Indian football, often seen with the senior women's national team too.

The disturbing story was largely reported through sources and spoken of in whispers by other women stakeholders because the authorities did not make any detailed statement other than the announcement of Ambrose's sacking. This, even as India was hosting a FIFA World Cup for the supposed development of the very girls who were in the company of an alleged sexual offender without any recourse to counselling or a mandatory POSH Committee.

There is finally some movement: the case is now in court with the latest development being an arrest warrant against him for no response. There are many more examples of sexual exploitation over the last year with varying degrees of correction measures.

The wheels are moving, if slowly. What more do you want?

A safe space, access to safeguards when being harassed and not being forced into silence by fear. Make it easy for young women athletes to complain about sexual misconduct.

Why is it hard for young Indian women footballers to complain about sexual misconduct?


Menstruation conversation to be normalised

When Mirabai Chanu won the silver medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, she was likely not at 100%. Coach Vijay Kumar told reporters present that she had 'ladki-wala [female] problem' and struggled with cutting weight for the competition.

If she was indeed on her period, to win a weightlifting Olympic medal after reducing food intake to be the right weight - a standard practice in the sport - makes Mirabai's feat so much more impressive.

A former Indian cricketer spoke about putting in one of her best performances while menstruating but being worried about stains while focussing on the match. Indian windsurfer Katya Coelho wondered why no one ever asked how women in adventure and water sports deal with periods.

There are two to five days a month when women cope with a physical issue. The pain and discomfort vary but a woman's body is physiologically altered. This is a fact, just like a bruise or a sprain. And this will affect output in a physically intense sport.

Of course, this will never be an excuse, but women are increasingly talking about the effect of periods on performance: Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui talking about her period at the Rio Olympics, golfer Lydia Ko telling a male presenter that the on-course treatment she received was for period pain.

But this is still a taboo conversation in India, where some households still ostracise a woman on her period.

This has to change on a systemic level, but more so in sports where India is constantly progressing. How many sportswomen can even talk about this to their coach without shame or fear of being sidelined? Is there specific nutrition or altered training for this?

What more do you want?

To talk about this discomfort openly, to factor menstruation into training cycles and sports science.


Safe spaces and hygienic restrooms

Have you seen a ladies' washroom at a public place - a stadium, for example - in India? If you have, you know. No further explanation needed. If you haven't, suffice it to say that most women will go without drinking water for most of the day while watching longer matches, choosing dehydration over the other potential diseases and risks. This after risking catcalling and enduring stares from male fans at a stadium.

Sportswomen, though, don't usually have the option of not using the washroom and their experiences are often horrific.

A cricketer who played in Mumbai's famous Shivaji Park once told this writer about how there were no designated changing rooms for women - this, in the "nursery of Indian cricket" - so they would use makeshift arrangements. Women journalists speak of similar horror stories while covering events at smaller venues - there are no toilet facilities worth the name.

Last year, the massage tables at the Inter-state athletics championship in Chennai were set up on the road within the gated campus. The female athletes getting treatment had a towel thrown over their torsos.

A private, designated and hygienic restroom space is necessary for women, both players and fans. This basic access is denied to thousands of women in India. Yes, some stadiums in the metros have improved, and top Indian women athletes will not often experience the trauma of bad (or no) toilets.

What more do you want?

Maintain designated spaces for sportswomen starting from the grassroots level. Ensure feminine hygiene is not another reason for women to stop participating in sports.

Recognise that female fans will come to the stadium and need clean washrooms. The male-dominated audience and infrastructure at most Indian stadiums mean women are wary of attending anyway and by not ensuring safe and clean spaces, Indian sport is isolating a large section of the fan base.


Remove prejudice over physicality

The new advertisement for the energy drink Boost, which has long been associated with top Indian cricketers, features India captain Harmanpreet Kaur asking for the stadium boundaries to be pushed back because - delivered with a wry smile - "girls can't hit big." It's a direct retort to a criticism levelled at so much of women's sport.

She doesn't bowl fast enough. A man ranked 700th in the world can beat her. Women's football is boring to watch. She should switch to modelling if she's vain. She is bulked up/has a buzz cut, doesn't look like a woman.

The narrative around women's sport has always had a layer of prejudice: women are not as physically strong as men, or well-groomed sportswomen are not committed enough.

Why is women's sport - the ability, the physics - always directly compared to what men do?

The ball doesn't know whether it is a man or a woman hitting it, the shot and the scorecard are largely the same for both. There may be fewer sets for women's Grand Slam and smaller boundaries in cricket, but how does that affect the pleasure of watching the perfect inswinger or ace?

This is down to the male gaze. Much of sports storytelling is still dominated by men, and therefore the parameters for brilliance are masculine. Whether it's calling an athlete leggy or saying she lacks power, there has to be a core change in mentality to describe women's sport.

It's simplistic to talk only about how hard the ball is struck, there's a story to tell in the grace of a dribble and the precision of deception at the net. She may not have the power of Andre Russel but the easy timing of Shafali Verma is no less striking. She may not have the explosiveness of a Kylian Mbappe but quicksilver reflexes of Alexia Putellas are no less enthralling to watch. These are differences to be embraces, not pointed out as a flaw.

What more do you want?

For the male gaze, the bias against women's physicality to be eliminated.


The list can go on and on.

- Equal opportunity and representation. How many women are there in positions of leadership? Why is the Indian Women's League only 40 days long (and called off during the pandemic) and the Indian Super League four months long?

- Gender-neutral language: Why is using the term batter such a battle?

- Inclusion in the narrative when talking about history and legacy. Savita is just as big a goalkeeping legend as Sreejesh.

- Reduced toxicity online. Why is the trolling of women, players, their female partners even fans, so rampant it's normalised?

There will always be some that say: 'But you are on the podium now, and television and newspapers. Why can't you be satisfied with that? What more do you want?'

The answer may seem simple, like the buzzwords Women's Day messages are filled with: equality, respect and opportunity. In truth, it is not. It's not even universal; every female athlete and sports stakeholder we spoke to in writing this and other stories around Women's Day highlighted a different challenge unique to their sport. Every person reading this may have a different wishlist for women's sport.

The hope, then, is that the answer will evolve with women's sport in India: the more the success, the more the demand for change. Look at the ongoing Women's Premier League as proof of this.

This Women's Day and beyond, the hope is that we can redefine the context of the question. From a pessimistic 'What more do you want' to a constructive 'What more do you need'.