Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan has come under fire for remarks about women footballers having “flat chests” and suggesting they would not be attractive candidates for marriage.
Hassan made the comments at a ceremony on Sunday to celebrate the victory of a national men’s team in a regional football championship, where ironically she also called for better funding for women’s sports.
“For those who have flat chests, you might think they are men and not women,” she said at Sunday’s event. “And if you look at their faces you might wonder… because if you want to marry, you want someone who is attractive, a lady who has the qualities that you want.”
She added that for the women footballers “those qualities have disappeared”. Hassan, who took office in March after the sudden death of her predecessor John Magafuli, is the only current serving female head of state in Africa alongside Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, whose role is mainly ceremonial.
“Today they are making us proud as a nation when they bring trophies to the country but if you look at their lives in the future, when the legs are tired from playing, when they don’t have the health to play, what life will they be living?” she said.
“The life of marriage is like a dream to them. Because even if one of you here takes them home as your wife, your mother will ask if they are a woman or a fellow man.”
Hassan’s comments were widely derided online.
“The comment by president @SuluhuSamia on women footballers is a humiliation to all women,” said Catherine Ruge, the head of the women’s wing of the opposition Chadema party and a former MP. “All women deserve respect.”
Maria Sarungi, the founder of civil society group Change Tanzania, echoed that view.
“So all those cheering a female presidency…@SuluhuSamia is denigrating female football players for having ‘flat chests’ and thus lacking attractive features necessary to get married. You must be proud @AWLNetwork,” she tweeted, referring to the African Women Leaders Network.