Women’s sport has been experiencing enormous growth in recent times and it is fantastic that governments at all levels and the sports industry has placed such an emphasis on getting more women active. Well overdue it should be said. Subsequently there has been some great progress at both elite and community levels with huge benefits to the community both in addressing gender inequality but most significantly in improving the health and well-being of women across the country.
I am though worried about one sub-group of women that appear not to be getting the same support and opportunities That is, women experiencing social disadvantage seem to be overlooked and perhaps been placed in the too hard basket. Social disadvantage of course relates to socioeconomic aspects like income, employment, education and socio economic status amongst a number of other factors. This group could also be women experiencing homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse issues, domestic violence and could also include aboriginal women and women from new arrival backgrounds.
Research from the Institute of Health and Welfare highlighted the vulnerability of this group and stressed the proportion of people aged 18–64 who are insufficiently active increases with socioeconomic disadvantage. In 2014–15, 60% of men and 66% of women living in the most disadvantaged areas were insufficiently active, compared with 38% of men and 43% of women living in the least disadvantaged areas. These are pretty alarming statistics that cannot be ignored recognizing the risk that physical inactivity places on the health of these women.
In reality there are some community organisations, health providers and a few sporting bodies, associations and clubs that actually deliver programs that target disadvantaged women. Getting kids and men from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in sport though challenging itself, is slightly easier to deliver for a range of reasons. The opportunities for women are far more limited.
The Community Street Soccer Program of the Big Issue does some great work in this space with mixed gender programs across the country engaging women from such backgrounds and allowing them to enjoy the world game. They also run a brilliant women’s specific program. Most significantly women in these programs also receive invaluable information and connection to services that can improve their overall well-being. The personal and health outcomes for these women have been uplifting.
But the coaches and coordinators who deliver these programs find that that recruiting women is not an easy task. Building female participation numbers is difficult. We are already aware of the barriers to women from the mainstream participating in sport so imagine the barriers to participation even for these women. Understanding these barriers is a key to designing programs to get more disadvantaged women active. Some of the barriers include lack of transport, lack of time (caring for family),fear of sport and no prior history and experience in sport and also a number intrinsic motivational barriers as well. This is a complex area.
Questions then need to be asked on how can we make this group a priority during a time that hopefully women's sport and involvement in physical activity is rightly receiving the attention and funding it deserves. Can we encourage sporting bodies, clubs and associations to work in this space? Or is it the role of community organisations and health service providers working with these women? How do we better understand these barriers to participation? Who is best placed to this research? I am hopeful that the National Disability Insurance does trigger some action in this space but there is a lot of work to be done by numerous stakeholders.
Collaboration is no doubt the key to making these women’s health a priority and creating appropriate opportunities. There is undeniably a role for government leadership but further commitment is needed from the sports industry, community sector and health services sector. Not to mention the corporate sector who can also make a key contribution. It also needs a change in mindset from all of us to include these women in any discussions around opportunities for women. Be it in sport or any other areas of life!