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August 03, 2012

“The Gazelle” Represents for the Women of Uganda

By Christiana Renfro

This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.

Dorcus Inzikuru: 30 years old Ugandan. Event: 3000m steeplechase (Friday, August 3)

Dorcus Inzikuru has been surrounded by sports her whole life—both of her parents were competitive runners and she is now married to ex-sprinter Martin Acidri. Born in Vurra, Uganda, Inzikuru was surrounded not only by photos of her parents running, but also posters idolizing the famous Ugandan runner John Akii-Bua, an Olympic champion in the 400m hurdle.

Uganda has competed in the Olympics since 1956. It boycotted the Games once, in 1976, alongside other African nations in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. It has won a total of six medals, all by men, in track and field and boxing. Inzikuru, therefore, has the opportunity to achieve an unprecedented victory, not only for herself, but for all female athletes within her country.

Nicknamed the “Ugandan Gazelle,” Inzikuru has achieved prominence by pledging much of her prize earnings from the 2005 World Championships and other events to cultivating athletic talent within Uganda. “I plan to build a house [for myself], but I would really like to help my fellow athletes, she has said. “I want to bring on the teenage girls, to make sure there are others to follow me.”  Inzikuru is not the only one taking notice of the connection between women and sports and the opportunity for social empowerment. The U.S. State Department recently launched the U.S. Council to Empower Women and Girls through Sports, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The program focuses on incorporating sports into leadership initiatives within the U.S. and through sports-based exchanges abroad.

Inzikuru’s Olympic bid comes as good news in a country where troubling headlines about human rights abuses persist. Most recently, Uganda’s persecution of the LGBT community has caught the world’s attention.  Homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment and death, and LGBT community members, activists, and supporters are frequently marginalized and discriminated against.  "Correctional rapes” and other hate crimes are widespread. Moreover, as Human Rights First has documented, the crackdown on activists within the LGBT community has intensified over the past few months, with government agents infiltrating activists’ meetings. And in June, as we reported, the government announced that it would make illegal dozens of LGBT rights groups within Uganda—rights groups primarily concerned about a proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would even further increase penalties for homosexual behavior.

Despite the troubles at home, Inzikuru has a unique opportunity to inspire young women and join the wave following her Olympic games.  The Observer, a Ugandan weekly newspaper dubbed her Uganda’s most influential woman in the history of sport, giving her an excellent platform to launch an initiative that would promote positive female leadership and community participation through sports.