Being a This Girl Can Ambassador, I’m passionate about getting more women active. It’s a sad fact that there are 313,600 fewer women than men who are regularly active, and 4 in 10 women are not active enough to ensure they get the full health benefits.
This gender gap is caused by many barriers, from cost to ability, body confidence and time constraints. As someone who is engaged in sport myself, I try to put myself in the mindset of someone who is currently inactive and consider their barriers and how these can be overcome.
One of the solutions that is often suggested is women’s only training sessions/facilities/events or races. However, I’ve always been unsure about how effective these are and whether they are necessary. From personal experience, I’ve never been bothered about training and racing alongside men. In fact, one of my favourite things about triathlon is sharing the love of it with my husband. However, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m biased in my view as I’m already active.
This International Women’s Day, I’m actually leading a run at a women’s only event organised by This Girl Can Essex. I’m really interested to see the level of demand for this type of session and whether it truly engages those women who are currently inactive.
I’ve gathered some thoughts on both sides of the argument:
For Women’s only events
Safe and welcoming space
Women’s only sessions are often perceived as a more supportive, friendly and social environment than mixed groups. They can be a less daunting space for women to access sport and build up their confidence.
Body image issues
Body confidence issues are a huge barrier to sport for many women, so training in a female-only environment can feel less judgemental and intimidating.
Certain sports have a reputation as being male-dominated, chauvinistic and competitive. This can be very off-putting particularly for beginners who feel they can’t keep up or compete with the rest of the group.
This is particularly relevant in the triathlon swim, where it can get quite rough and aggressive especially swimming alongside men.
Women who have particular cultural/religious needs, such as Muslims, cannot engage in mixed gender sports and the environment and dress code also requires consideration.
Against Women’s only events
More gossipy, bitchy, cliquey
I’ve heard reports that some women’s only groups are actually less than supportive and can make newcomers feel excluded with a bitchy atmosphere.
Scaled back version of men’s events
Events aimed at women tend to be a dumbed-down version of the main event- the Irongirl 5km run at Ironman events is a case in point. These give the patronising message that women are not capable of challenging distances.
The ‘shrink it and pink it’ marketing strategy is outdated, but some events still take the pretty, girly pink approach to their branding which gives out the wrong message.
Men’s only events
Women do not have the monopoly on feeling insecure and intimidated. Men can equally have self-confidence issues when accessing a new sport or activity, so why should there not be men’s only groups/events?
Ultimately, different personalities will respond to different approaches. It’s about seeing women as individuals, not as a group who need special treatment.
What are your thoughts on women’s only sessions/facilities/events and races?