PARTNERING TO ADDRESS GENDER BIAS IN SPORT
As we have stated, our mission is to foster equity in women’s health. We aim to do this by expanding awareness of high-priority issues, closing gaps in research, and connecting pathways from lab to life.
We aim to make meaningful change in the name of women’s health.
Throughout our pursuit of this mission, we have come to realize that there is an enormous overlap—and interaction—between the deep biases that exist in women’s healthcare with those that exist for women in sports. It seems there are similar gaps in funding, access, awareness, and more…
As we all know, sports provide a wonderful opportunity to get exercise, develop physical and mental skills, and form meaningful relationships. And of course, the benefits of exercise on one’s health are well-documented.
But it seems that women and girls are not afforded the same sports-related opportunities in our society.
We know from our partners with Canadian Women & Sport that, “Among girls who have participated in sport, there is a dramatic dropout rate observed with 1 in 3 girls leaving sport by late adolescence. By comparison, the dropout rate for teenage boys (aged 16-18) is only 1 in 10.”
And, “Sport participation rates for Canadian girls decline steadily from childhood to adolescence with as many as 62% of girls not playing sport at all.” In other words, nearly two-thirds of teenage girls quit sports.
While the benefits of exercise are well-known—and becoming clearer every day through research—so too are the detriments of lack of exercise.
According to a recent U.S. study, only 15% of pregnant women are currently meeting the recommended levels for exercise during pregnancy. Yet, we now know thanks to research from WCHRI member Margie Davenport that exercise can be hugely helpful during pregnancy–so much so that exercising throughout pregnancy can cut the odds of developing a major complication by at least 25%.
Sadly, the low levels of exercise being performed by pregnant women may result from fear of potential harm to their babies, or women historically being told to ‘rest and relax.’
The frustrating irony of these actions is not lost on us.
So given these benefits and risks, we must ask ourselves, why is this the case? Why are women and girls leaving (or being pushed out of?) organized sport at such high rates? What exactly is happening behind the scenes that has created this situation, and what can we do about it?
Thus, we have turned our attention to how we can address these problems.
RESEARCHERS LEADING THE WAY
Firstly, we looked to our health research partners with WCHRI to better understand what is being done in the area of women’s health as activity and exercise relate to physical health, mental health, pregnancy and motherhood, social determinants of health, and general access.
Fortunately, there are many bright spots and much illuminating work underway, including but not limited to the topics of:
- Pregnancy and elite athletes
- Exercise guidelines during pregnancy
- Sport-related stress and coping in women athletes (plus the long-lasting effects of coaching on mental health)
- Marginalized youth and access to physical activity
- Sport and physical activity for people with physical disabilities
- And more…
We have the pleasure of supporting several researchers who are currently working to illuminate certain areas where we lack knowledge, or areas where new evidence could influence major change in policies and practice surrounding women and girls in sport and physical activity.
We invite you to meet…
- Margie Davenport
(major focus on the relationship between pregnancy and exercise)
- Tara-Leigh McHugh
(major focus on psychosocial aspects of sport for women and youth)
- Amber Mosewich
(major focus on stress, coping, emotion, and behavioural responses within sport)
COMMUNITY SUPPORT MAKING CONNECTIONS
Secondly, we’ve begun searching for preliminary information and leads, and identifying the largest issues. In working with women athletes such as the Boomerangs women’s hockey team (featured in our brand video, “We Are Not Equal”), a number of compassionate players and staffers from the Edmonton Elks Football Club, influencers and athlete ambassadors associated with the AWHF and Women’s Health Collective Canada (WHCC), and in conversation with our many women colleagues and partners who have experience with sports, we can confirm anecdotally that it’s true—women indeed face a wide variety of gender-specific challenges and obstacles in pursuing sports and physical activity.
The research needs more support.
In a new campaign of written installments, story and video submissions, and ongoing research projects, we will be exploring the causes, effects, and potential solutions to a number of issues surrounding gender bias in sport and women’s health.
Our goals for this campaign are to:
- Raise money (and awareness) – for the research and the gaps
- Influence – broad change in women’s sport policies and perceptions, to benefit women’s health
- Inspire – our supporters and community to lend strength to the cause
But, we need your help...
LEND A HAND AND LET’S #PRACTICEMOREPARITY
While we will be examining the research and speaking to experts on a variety of subjects, we also want to hear from YOU—our supporters and fellow community members—on the specific ways these biases in sport and physical activity have affected our community and our families.
So, we invite you to share your own individual story! And if you are part of a larger organization and interested in becoming a partner, we would welcome the conversation!
We are encouraged by all the work and progress being made by like-minded organizations like Canadian Women & Sport, InMotion Network, Fast&Female, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, and others, but are always looking to join up with more partners. Thanks again to the Edmonton Elks Football Club for supporting this campaign and helping us all practice more parity!
After all, we are stronger—and louder—together.
Women’s health is community health.