Chapter 3 - Grass Roots Participation
3.1 This chapter discusses data relating to the women's participation
in organised and non-organised sport and physical activities; the major barriers
to participation; and strategies to encourage greater participation by girls
and women. The chapter also highlights the particular needs of special needs
groups, including women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, women with disabilities,
women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Indigenous
women and women living in geographically isolated areas.
Participation in sport and recreation activities
Girl (5-14 years)
The ABS in its
Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities 2003 collected information on
participation in organised sport, organised cultural activities (music,
singing, dancing and drama lessons) and leisure activities (skateboarding or
rollerblading, bike riding, watching television or videos, playing computer
games, other computer use, art and craft activities and reading for pleasure).
Figure 3.1 shows participation in organised sport by
age and gender.
Figure 3.1 Children's
participation in organised sport
Source: ABS, Children's Participation in Cultural and
Leisure Activities, April 2003, p. 14.
The ABS data indicate that in 2003:
Some 62 per cent of children aged 5 -14 years
participated in organised sport. Across all age groups, boys had a higher
participation rate (69 per cent) in organised sport than girls (54 per cent). Dancing
was the one activity in which girls participated much more extensively than
boys (23.8 per cent versus 1.6 per cent).
Female participation rates in organised sport
declined from a high of 64 per cent at 11 years to 53 percent at 14 years.
Female participation in active leisure
activities such as skateboarding/rollerblading and bike riding also declined
from about 10 years of age.
The rate of participation of boys in organised
sport increased from 66 per cent in 2000 to 69 per cent in 2003. However,
there was no statistically significant change for girls.
Nearly one-third (29 per cent) of children participated
in two or more sports – 35 per cent for boys and 23 per cent for girls. For
girls, the most popular sports were netball (18 per cent or 233 000),
swimming (17 per cent or 225 500), tennis (8 per cent or 100 000)
and basketball (7 per cent or 88 900).
Some 46 per cent of girls did not participate in
organised sport (compared with 31 per cent of boys).
Age and gender are important variables in explaining
participation rates in organised sport, with girls being less likely than boys
to participate, even when organised dancing (a popular activity among girls) is
included in the analysis. Children in the younger and older age groups (5 to 7
years and 12 to 14 years) are less likely to participate than those in the
middle childhood years (8-11 years).
Women (15 years and over)
Three data sources provide information on the
participation rates of women in organised and non-organised sport and physical
activity. They are:
the Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey
(ERASS) survey for 2004;
the ABS Participation in Sport and Physical
Activities survey for 2002 (based on results from the General Social Survey
the ABS Involvement in Organised Sport and
Physical Activity survey for 2004 (conducted as part of the ABS Monthly
ERASS is a joint initiative of the Australian Sports
Commission (ASC) and the state and territory departments of sport and
recreation. ERASS collects information on the frequency, nature and type of activities
of persons 15 years and over for exercise, recreation and sport during the 12
months prior to the interview. It provides information on organised and non-organised
activity for exercise, recreation and sport.
The ABS Participation in Sport and Physical Activities survey
presents results from the General Social Survey 2002 relating to participation
in organised and non-organised sport and physical activities by persons aged 18
years and over.
The ABS Involvement in Organised Sport and Physical Activity
survey 'presents information on the number of persons aged 15 years and over
who were involved in organised sport and physical activity over a 12 month
period'. The survey examined both
playing and non-playing roles.
The main findings of these surveys include:
The overall participation rate for exercise,
recreation and sport in the ERASS survey was 82.8 per cent – with similar
participation rates for males and females (83 per cent and 82.6 per cent
respectively). The overall participation rate in the ABS Participation in Sport
and Physical Activities survey was lower at 62.4 per cent – with participation
rates for males (65 per cent) and females (59.9 per cent).
Organised participation – all surveys showed
higher rates of participation for men. The ERASS survey recorded a
participation rate for males of 44.7 per cent) compared to females 40.8 per
cent. The ABS Participation in Sport and Physical Activities survey recorded participation
rate for males of 34.3 per cent compared to females 28.5 per cent, while their
Organised Sport survey produced overall rates of 26.9 per cent for men and 20
per cent for women.
Non-organised participation – the ERASS survey recorded
a lower participation rate for males (38.3 per cent) than females (41.9 per
cent). The ABS Participation in Sport and Physical Activities survey recorded a
similar participation rate for males (30.7 percent) and females (31.4 per
The ERASS survey reports higher participation rates
overall and higher participation rates for women in both organised and
non-organised physical activities than ABS data. The differences in results may
be attributable to the surveys measuring distinct types of activities engaged
in by respondents. The ASC commissioned ACNielsen Research to examine the
reasons for the contrasting results, which they studied by administering the
ABS and ERASS questions to two random samples of 700 interviewees using
identical survey techniques. Their study reproduced the different participation
rates for the two sets of questions. This implies that the two surveys are
measuring different sorts of participation in physical activity:
ACNielsen also found that even though the GSS had a higher
response rate than ERASS (91% compared to 46% in 2002), this was not biasing
ERASS results. ACNielsen proved this by using a split sample design, where they
interviewed 1,400 respondents using Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing.
They randomly selected half the sample (700 respondents) and asked them the
ERASS question, while the other half (700 respondents) were asked the GSS
question. Even though this ACNielsen study achieved a response rate of just
32%, the participation rates obtained from the GSS and ERASS questions in this
study were comparable to the results of the original surveys. ACNielsen,
therefore, concluded that there is no evidence of bias in the ERASS data caused
by response rates...
In summary, the GSS is asking a very different question than
ERASS in the mind (comprehension) of respondents. ERASS is measuring a much
broader concept of physical activity than the GSS, where respondents are more
likely to include recreational physical activities (be they organised or
The ERASS survey for 2004 indicates that in the
previous 12 months an estimated 13.1 million persons aged 15 years and over
participated in at least one physical activity for exercise, recreation and
sport – a participation rate of 82.8 per cent. As noted above, the overall
participation rate for males and females was similar (83 per cent and 82.6 per
In relation to organised
participation, 6.8 million persons aged 15 years and over participated in
organised physical activity for exercise, recreation and sport. This represents a participation rate
of 42.7 per cent. Of this number, participation for females was 40.8 per
cent, whereas for males it was 44.7 per cent.
The data also shows that organised participation rates
were highest for women (and for men) in the 15 to 24 age groups (63.5 per
cent), and declined steadily with age to 29.4 per cent for women aged 65 years
and over (Figure 3.2).
3.2 Participation rates (organised
activities) by gender, 2004
Source: ASC, Participation in Exercise, Recreation and
Sport, Annual Report 2004, Table 14.
The data for adults who are active, but do not
participate in organised sport, tell
a different story (Figure 3.3). Participation rates for non-organised
activities show greater participation by women, and greater participation with
age until around retirement, when participation declines.
Figure 3.3 Participation rates
(non-organised activities) by gender, 2004
Source: ASC, Participation in Exercise, Recreation and
Sport, Annual Report 2004, Table 11.
ABS data also provides information on participation
rates. The data for the 2002 Participation in Sport and Physical Activities
survey indicate that 9.1 million people aged 18 years and over participated in
sport and physical activities in 2002 – with slightly more males (65 per cent)
than females (59.9 per cent) participating in these activities.
In relation to organised participation, the two ABS
surveys produce slightly different results. The Participation in Sport and
Physical Activities survey showed almost a third (31.4 per cent) of the
population aged 18 years and over participated in organised sport. Males were
more likely to participate in organised activity (34.3 per cent) than females
(28.5 per cent). The Involvement in Organised Sport and Physical Activity
produced lower figures: 23.4 per cent for the population as a whole (26.9 per
cent for men and 20 per cent for women).
Participation rates declined rapidly with increasing
age. In the Participation in Sport and Physical Activities survey, females aged
25-34 years had the highest participation rate (68 per cent) while females aged
65 years and over had the lowest (41.3 per cent). For over half of those who
had undertaken some participation (61.8 per cent), it was something done at
least weekly. The proportion of the population with this frequency of
participation was similar for both males and females – 38.6 per cent for males
and 38.7 per cent for females. Almost three-quarters of people 18 years and
over who participated in sport and physical activities limited their
participation to one or two activities. Males participated in more activities
than females with 30.6 per cent of males compared with 22.4 per cent of females
participating in three or more activities.
Womensport and Recreation Victoria cited information
from the Heart Foundation and Deakin University Seesaw study, which showed that
generally participation rates are similar for men as for women, but that only
44 per cent of females reach the minimum physical activity threshold of 150
minutes per week.
Changes in participation
As noted above, data indicate that girls and young women
are less physically active than young men and become increasingly so as they
get older, in particular as they leave the structured environment of school and
make the transition to adulthood.
Data indicate that girls' participation in organised
sport and in the more active leisure activities declines from the mid-teen
years. Evidence to the inquiry commented on these trends. The Football Federation Australia (FFA)
...there is a massive drop-off rate, which is common in all female
sports. There is a massive interest in sport when people are at a young age.
They get to 14, 15 and 16 and the drop-off rate is extraordinary. The highest
percentage of those playing sport are women over 35. Obviously a lot of mothers
come back and play sport.
Womensport and Recreation Victoria noted the same
Our scoping research suggests that there is about a 50 per cent
drop-out rate at the ages of 10 to 14, so it is actually much younger. Five or
10 years ago it was that 16-year-old age group, where there is the discovery of
boys and all the other things that go along with being a teenager. But now, as
children mature earlier, the dropout age has come down. It is obviously of
massive concern. To be honest, I do not know how much is being done about it.
There are certainly the mandates that VicHealth spoke about with regard to
in-school hours. But I have not seen a significant investment in the out of
school hours area from the government when you consider that Scotland invests
about £42 million, or approximately $100 million, in after-school activity for
a population of about four million people.
As indicated above, participation rates overall
generally decline for women particularly after the mid-20s. While their
participation in organised sport declines markedly, participation in
non-organised sport generally increases. In the ERASS survey (see above), the
participation rate of females aged 15-24 was 90.6 per cent but declined to 84
per cent for 25-34 and 35-44 year-olds. Participation for the same age groups
in organised sport declined from 63.6 per cent for 15-24 year olds to 43.4 per
cent for 25-34 year olds, and 38.5 per cent for 35-44 year olds. However, participation
in non-organised sport increased from
27 per cent for 15-24 year old to 41 per cent for 25-34 year olds and 45.6 per
cent for 35-44 year olds.
Motherhood also influences participation in sport and
recreation activities. Women with children are less likely to be active, whilst
inactivity increases with the number of children. Qualitative research in Sydney found
that the main barriers to participation for mothers to be personal resources
(time and money), lack of partner support, lack of leisure companions, poor access to venues
(including lack of transport), and lack of good quality child care.
Research by Ms Gilchrist
of the University of Sydney
into the physical activity choices of young women aged 20-25 found that they
had many competing demands on their time including work, study, friends,
partners and finances. All participants in the study were active in sports when
younger. Leaving school marked a decline in general physical activity. Opportunity
for social sport and recreation decreased as they became older – 'negotiating
time pressure and friendship became more of an issue and non-physical social
activities (shopping and consumption focussed) became more desirable'. Several young women in the study stated
that in their teens, sport ceased to be 'fun' and physical activity became
about weight loss and body modification, often connected with a desire to
appear sexually attractive.
Most of the women in the study engaged in some type of
physical activity currently, at least intermittently, and almost half did so
regularly. The majority of women who engaged in regular physical activity did
so for enjoyment – only a small number did so to change their appearance
through 'body work'. The minority not engaged in physical activity explained
their inactivity due to 'busy social lives' and expressed satisfaction with
their body image. Older people also
have lower participation rates and this is discussed later in the chapter.
The committee understands there is growing recognition
of the problem that girls and women are dropping out of sport and recreation
activities, and that there are programs aimed at addressing this, such as:
Sporting organisations developing plans targeted
specifically at recruiting and retaining girls and women to participate in
sports, such as the Australian Football League's (AFL) Women's and Girls Strategic
State governments targeting support programs
specifically toward women, such as Queensland's
Club Development Program and State Development Program, the guidelines which 'rate
projects targeting the participation and development of women and girls very
Girls' breakfast programs targeted at increasing
girl's participation and keeping them involved.
Bridging Gaps with Basketball, a cooperative
initiative in Victoria
getting young Sudanese migrants active in basketball.
Despite these efforts, it appears clear that more has to be
done to keep girls and women active. Some of this effort must be in a school
setting, discussed later in the chapter. Other parts need to be in the general
The committee found that:
Women's participation in sport and recreation is
according to most studies less than men's.
Women's participation in organised sport in
particular is lower than men's, and there are more organised sporting
opportunities for men than for women.
The involvement of girls in physical activity
drops off sharply in the early teenage years, this trend is the biggest
divergence between male and female participation, and is a serious concern.
While there is a need for greater levels of
physical activity amongst all parts of the population, this need appears most
pressing amongst girls and women.
The committee recommends that the Australian Sports
Commission and state and territory sport and recreation authorities, in collaboration
with the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, develop
and implement strategies to address the issue of the high attrition rates in
female participation in sport and recreation activities.
Participation in particular activities
The committee received evidence about women's
participation in outdoor recreation. There have been several studies of outdoor
recreation in Australia
and overseas, and these have produced some significant results. A 2001 study in
South East Queensland revealed high participation rates in outdoor activities
and that people prefer to conduct these activities in natural settings. Selected rates of participation are
shown in Table 3.1. Two of the most popular activities – walking and water
activities – were both amongst the most likely to be engaged in by women, and
the activities performed most frequently.
Similar results were reported in a separate study performed in Central
Table 3.1 Rates of
participation in outdoor recreation, South East Queensland
participation, per cent
participation, per cent
Walking or nature study
activities (other than use of watercraft)
Abseiling or rockclimbing
Source: Jackie Kiewa, Terry Brown and Ray Hibbins, South East
Queensland Outdoor Recreation Demand Study, Queensland
Outdoor Recreation Federation, 2001, p. 32.
The rates of participation in outdoor recreation dwarf
those for most organised sports, and typically show greater participation by
women than in organised sport. Significantly, and consistent with studies of
women's interest in sport generally, the studies of outdoor recreation showed
that 'competition related reasons' were the least important reasons for people
to engage in outdoor recreational activities.
The Outdoor Industry Association produces a substantial
annual study of outdoor recreation participation in the United
Its 2006 results reinforce findings of other Australian studies such as those
discussed above, as well as providing some more in-depth analysis of individual
trends than has been possible with some Australian data. Key findings from the US
Participation in outdoor activities was quite
high (just over two-thirds of American women).
If fishing is excluded, participation in outdoor
recreation is almost as high for women as it is for men.
Participation rates remained stable, but the
number of individual outdoor outings declined.
There is a growth in outdoor activities that can
be 'done in a day'.
Time constraints are important in limiting
people's participation, and this may be connected to the fact that women's
number of outings may have dropped more sharply than men's.
Women may be shifting to fitness activities at
the expense of outdoor activities.
The Outdoor Council of Australia noted that government
support for outdoor recreation organisations and data collection was so weak it
was hard for informed decisions to be made or planning to be undertaken in this
area. The committee is concerned
that, given the high rates of female participation in outdoor recreation
(higher, typically, than for organised sports in general), this situation may
be hampering efforts to ensure all people, and women in particular, are gaining
the health benefits of outdoor activities.
The fitness sector, comprising fitness centre
businesses and personal training studios, is an important part of women's sport
and recreation experience. The industry estimates that around 900 000 women in Australia
use fitness businesses, and comprise around 55 per cent of all fitness centre
clients. The industry is growing
fast, with the largest player, Fitness First Australia, reporting a growth rate
of around 30 per cent per annum, again with most members being female, and most
members being new (that is, not just switching between clubs). Fitness First also reports that more
than a third of their members do group fitness classes, and of these, more than
80 per cent are female. Another major member of the fitness sector, Zest Health
Clubs, reported having over 65 000 members, with 58 per cent of members being
women, as well as 74 per cent of staff.
One of the highest profile and fastest growing businesses is Fernwood Women's
Health Clubs, which caters exclusively to female clients. It is growing very
rapidly and has over 80 000 members.
It reported that the majority of its members had not previously used a gym. It
appears to be the second largest business in the fitness sector, despite
catering only to women.
Meeting women's needs appears to be an important part
of how the sector operates. Most clubs, at least amongst the major providers,
appear to offer child care and/or women's only areas or classes. As with
outdoor recreation, the fitness sector's high rate of female participation may
reflect a preference for less organised and less competitive physical activity.
Dance has been used in many programs to encourage girls
in particular, who are less likely to participate in organised sport, to become
more physically active. Dance has been overlooked in the past as it does not
fit into the traditional sporting model:
There is a relationship between sport, physical education,
tourism, the creative arts and recreation which we need to see in focus. I have
given definitions of sport, recreation, the sports industry, leisure and
physical education. A dance, in some centres, is considered sport; in others it
is not. Certainly it is part of sports programs in some schools. I am in favour
[W]e talk about active recreation but a lot of our work has been
focussed a little more on organised sport or other forms of recreation. Where
does dance fit? Everything seems to go into boxes, so is it within arts or
sport? We are having those discussions and debates and recognising that, yes,
we do need to be looking at it. Although it has never been something that has
not been included, it perhaps has not been promoted.
Dance has been successfully integrated into the sports
funding model in some programs:
Within the out of school hours sports program, which was a pilot
we did with the Australian Sports Commission, we funded Dancesport Victoria
to deliver programs. It was only two terms but it was extremely successful.
They got a lot out of it. Dancesport Victoria
did also; being linked to an organisation such as VicHealth gave them a bit of
credibility within their industry as well.
The committee recommends that all levels of government
consider extending resources to a broader range of sports to ensure that women
are provided with greater choice and opportunity for participating in physical
activity including for example outdoor recreation and dance.
Barriers to participation
Historically, women and girls have experienced barriers
to their participation in sport, recreation and physical activity. Over the
last decade in particular several strategies have been developed in Australia
(and overseas) to redress this situation and advance opportunities for women
and girls. These strategies have
partly resulted in more women and girls being involved in sport, recreation and
physical activity and more competitive opportunities for them, both in
Australia and internationally. The participation rate for women in organised
physical activity increased from 37.7 per cent in 2001 to 40.8 percent in 2004.
These opportunities were brought about by strategies
ranging from the creation of national leagues in netball, softball, basketball,
cricket, soccer and hockey, to an increased number of disciplines and sports at
Commonwealth and Olympic Games. Nevertheless, the lower participation rate of
women in organised sports in particular suggests that there may still be
barriers to participation that can be examined by sporting organisations.
Numerous studies and submissions to the inquiry have
indicated that the factors that are directly responsible for the low
participation rate of women and girls in sport, recreation and physical
lack of information about what programs are available;
lack of access to appropriate, accessible,
affordable and acceptable facilities and services; and
lack of culturally appropriate
lack of time or perceived lack of time;
lack of childcare and lack of awareness of
fewer opportunities available for participation;
reduced leisure time owing to family
lack of skills or perceived lack of skills;
lack of financial resources;
lack of confidence in approaching activities
cultural and social pressures.
These factors indicate that major challenges must be
overcome before gender equity in sport, recreation and physical activity can be
achieved. They also suggest that to understand and address the complex influences
on female involvement in sport, recreation and physical activity, issues such
as the broader social, economic, cultural and physical context of the lives of
women and girls and the impact of the current infrastructure of sport and
recreation must be considered.
Barriers to girls' participation
As noted above, a number of barriers to girl's
participation in sport have been identified and the major factors are discussed
Poor self image/self confidence
Body image, lack of self confidence and/or belief that
they lack skills or physical competence is a significant barrier to girl's
participation in sport and recreation activities. One study commented that:
Both men and women use their physical appearance, weight and
body shape, as a measure of self worth and physical attractiveness. However
there appears to be less room for manoeuvre for women and
girls...Visual images of the 'ideal' women are used to sell everything...this
commodification of the female body...can lead women to identify their physical
appearance as a type of currency – personal worth or value as measured by body
Girls also tend to underrate their ability to perform
at sports and are less likely than their male peers to view themselves as
talented. Lower rates of participation in early childhood may also mean that
girls have poorer motor skills that are the precursors for sport. A lack of
confidence in their abilities to perform physical tasks may lead girls to avoid
situations which could expose their lack of confidence. When this reluctance
begins at an early age, girls can fail to master basic motor skills which in
turn results in their avoidance of games or sports which involve such
A further complicating factor is that females are more
concerned than males about eating, body weight and appearance. For many women,
dissatisfaction with body shape and appearance peaks during adolescence. It is
at this time that many teenage girls are often required to wear school or club
sports uniforms that make them feel particularly self-conscious.
Ironically, while many girls avoid sport because they
are self-conscious or feel they lack skills, girls who are physically active
report a more positive body image and greater self-confidence.
The strict dress code in some sports can be a deterrent
to women's participation in sport. Womensport and Recreation NSW argued that
girls often feel uncomfortable in certain types of sports attire, especially if
they are already self-conscious about their body shape.
...it can have a detrimental impact on the participation rate... If
they are merely doing it on a social basis and they are not particularly
looking to be an elite athlete or talented athlete and are just there to play
the game and have fun, they may not have a size 8 or size 10 body; they may be
a size 14 or size 16 but they are happy to get out there and participate. Put
them in an outfit like that and it highlights to them that they do not look the
If that is the only way they are able to participate in their
chosen sport at any level, particularly at a social level, where they are not
playing for prize money, they are not competing in a state-level competition
and where their skill level is about having a bit of fun then it makes it really
difficult for them to think: 'I have to go through some discomfort, perhaps
some embarrassment. I don’t feel comfortable running around wearing this. I
would feel more comfortable if I could wear shorts and a T-shirt or a longer
skirt and a T-shirt or something like that'.
Womensport and Recreation Victoria also noted that a
strict dress code may affect participation from the mid teens up to the elite
[it affects] not just in that age group [10-14 year olds] or at
the amateur level but certainly all the way through to the elite level. In
fact, I know of somebody in their late 20s or early 30s who was refusing to
play basketball because they were not allowed to wear a particular short. They
did not want to wear the baggy shorts; they wanted to wear bike shorts because
they were more comfortable. With respect to professionals, a number of female
WNBL players find the bodysuits abhorrent. In fact, one team has recently gone
back to shorts and singlets. It can be a deterrent not just at the younger
level but throughout.
Lack of positive role models
Girls also suffer from a lack of positive role models
which is influenced by the lack of media coverage for women's sport. This has
the effect of limiting the opportunities to find out about women's sporting
achievements and denies many young women and men female sporting role models. The
lack of promotion of female athletes also reinforces the concept that sport is
a male domain. Womensport and Recreation Victoria noted that young women are
more likely to nominate a sportsman rather than a sportswoman as a role model
Role of family/peers
Family, friends and peers exercise an important
influence on girls' sports participation. Girls whose parents regularly
exercise are much more likely to continue their involvement in sport than those
whose parents are inactive. This is
particularly the case for those girls whose mothers exercise. Friends and peers
can also influence participation. Many teenage girls endure taunts and insults
about their bodies, especially from their peers. During adolescence, a time
when young women are particularly sensitive to comments about their bodies,
such remarks can be especially potent.
Physical education in schools
People who participate in sport and other types of
physical activity at an early age, and especially during adolescence, are more
likely to be physically active adults. Submissions emphasised the need for
quality physical activity, sport and recreation programs in schools as a means
of equipping girls with skills and knowledge essential for them to confidently
participate in organised sport.
Some submissions argued that there
was a lack of opportunities to participate in sports at school or in after
school sports activities. Under the Commonwealth schools funding
legislation for the 2005–2008 triennium, education authorities will be required
to include in their curriculum at least two hours of physical activity per week
in primary schools and junior high school.
This is discussed later in the chapter.
Submissions also noted that physical education classes
in schools are often not geared to the needs of girls. One submission noted
that many classes are gendered, 'producing constructions of young women as
weaker, less enthusiastic and less skilled in sports than young men'. Girls responding to a survey
conducted by a group in regional Victoria
said that '[i]n school sport, the main focus is on competition meaning those
with lesser ability are excluded/or feel excluded and give up'.
Barriers to women's participation
There are other barriers to participation in sport that
particularly affect women.
Lack of time
Women tend to have less time than men as they take on
the greater burden of responsibility for housework, childcare and the care of
elderly or infirm relatives. This
is one of the key reasons for not taking part in sport. The Department of Sport
and Recreation WA stated that more women than men report lack of time and
childcare commitments as barriers to participation. Increasing numbers of women are in
the full time and part time workforce. Patterns of work are changing with
increasing casualisation of the workforce, unpredictable shifts, and uncertain
hours of work all working to impede access to opportunities to engage in sport
The SA Premier's Council for Women commented on the
time and work life pressures that place a burden on many women. The Council
noted that studies have shown that more employees feel stressed by conflicting
priorities of work and family and pressured by time with more than half of
Australian couples with dependent children always or often feeling pressed for
time. The results of the outdoor
recreation surveys mentioned earlier all appear to suggest that time
constraints are an issue, and that these weigh disproportionately on women.
Cost of participation
The cost of involvement in a recreation activity is
prohibitive for many women. Womensport and Recreation Victoria reported that, in
a recent survey of women and sport in Victoria,
the cost of participating in sport was cited as the main barrier for women participating
in sport. Costs include membership
fees and often uniforms or equipment costs.
These costs put many activities out of the range of the average family. Women,
especially from single income families, may not have sufficient disposable income
to permit participation in activities other than activities that do not involve
a cost, such as walking. Recreation SA stated that many women put their own
social and recreational needs after the recreation needs of the rest of their
Access to appropriate, regular and affordable childcare
options is a major barrier to participation in sport and recreation activities.
While many large fitness centres and indoor swimming pools provide on site
crèches and/or child minding facilities this is not the case for most sport and
recreation organisations, particularly community based groups. Access to
childcare also impacts on older women, such as grandmothers, who provide care
on a regular basis for their grandchildren and often forego their recreation
activities to care for these children.
The lack of appropriate facilities is a barrier to participation
for both girls and older women. At the time when the majority of current
facilities were designed and built, participation in sports was strongly
dominated by males, and sports grounds and amenities were built with little
thought for women's needs. VicSport noted that:
...the best facilities are not necessarily those with the best
buildings or grounds, but rather those catering for the needs of a wide cross
section of society, including those of women...there are realistically still very
few facilities genuinely accessible for women.
Submissions noted that the quality and quantity of facilities
need to be improved, including the upgrading and/or proper maintenance of
playing fields, and the provision of female changing rooms and toilets and other
facilities. Submissions noted that
the provision of appropriate facilities is a particular problem in regional and
rural areas. The lack of suitable facilities is also increasingly felt as more
women engage in traditionally male-dominated sports.
Encouraging girls and young women's participation
Reports and submissions to the inquiry have emphasised
that if there is to be a significant change in the overall participation rates
for women, it is essential that more is done to make involvement in sport more
attractive for young women. As attitudes in relation to sport are developed at
an early age, this requires action at both the primary and secondary school
Physical education in schools/transitional
As noted previously, there was considerable evidence
suggesting that there was a lack of opportunities for children to participate
in sports at school.
Under new Commonwealth funding arrangements for schools,
state and territory governments and non-government education are required to
include in their curriculum at least two hours of physical activity per week
for primary and junior secondary school children. Physical activity is defined in this
instance as any form of structured or non-structured exercise or movement. It
may include, but not be limited to, activity such as walking, running, dance,
the development of fundamental movement skills, swimming, basketball or other
sports. It may also include activities that require physical skills and utilise
strength, power, endurance, speed and flexibility.
The committee notes that reporting requirements under
the agreement are still being finalised, and it urges governments to move
quickly to a reporting framework. There appeared to be some confusion amongst
inquiry participants regarding the status of school sport. This might be
because some jurisdictions have highly devolved arrangements, meaning sporting
activity can vary from school to school and region to region (such as in
Tasmania). It may also be because changes are currently underway, under the
inter-governmental agreement mentioned above.
The committee asked all states and territories to
describe the arrangements in their education systems for physical activity. At
the time of reporting, it had received responses from the Australian
Capital Territory, New South
Victoria and Western
Australia. These responses are included in Appendix 4.
The questions states and territories were asked by the committee were:
- what physical education classes are required and what
are available (but non-compulsory), in each year of school;
- what proportion of physical education classes are
required to involve exercise activity
- what school sport during regular school hours is
required, and what is available (but non-compulsory), in each year of school;
- what other obligations are there to participate in
school-organised sporting activity outside regular school hours;
- in each of the above cases, what is included in the
meaning of sport, physical activity or exercise;
- in each of the above cases, who determines whether
schools and students are complying with the relevant policy; and
- does the regulation of any of the above matters vary
according to the type of school (for example, public, Catholic or other
The extent of school-base activities varied between
jurisdictions. It also appears that in some jurisdictions sport is compulsory
to some degree (for example Victoria and NSW),
while in others it is not at the present time (for example Tasmania
and Western Australia).
Evidence suggested a lack of commitment by some State
and Territory education authorities toward encouraging girls to take up or stay
involved in sport. In particular it has been argued that the prevailing culture
about sport at many schools does not encourage girls to participate. The WA
Sports Federation stated that:
...the foundation of participation is born in the school system...until
there is a more positive attitude and culture for skill development in basic
school physical education programs delivered by qualified teaching staff ...there
will be little, if any change in the future.
WA Netball stated that the removal of compulsory
physical education from the school curriculum in Western
Australia has 'had a noticeable impact on the
likelihood of children becoming involved in sport, an, therefore, undertaking a
healthy work/life balance in their long term lifestyle development'.
It is the
responsibility of State and Territory education authorities to create a receptive
and supportive environment in school so as to help encourage more girls to take
up and stay involved in sport. The importance of quality physical education as
being an integral part of every school curriculum was also emphasised.
The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education
and Recreation (ACHPER) argued that there needs to be a review of school based
physical activity programs to determine the extent to which schoolgirls are
skills and knowledge essential to participate in
organised sport in the broader community;
female teachers as role models of active women;
the effectiveness of single sex or co-education
classes in physical activity especially in promoting lifelong participation;
best practices appropriate to Aboriginal, ethnic
and cultural diversity;
programs such as sport education which include
information and experience on successfully making the transition from school to
opportunities to participate in school teams in
competitions organised by state sporting organisations (or their regional
school policies and practices which support the
training and competition of elite schoolgirl athletes without compromising
their academic pursuits; and
the opportunity to be made aware and linked to
community based sport and recreation programs through their school and other
Recreation SA also emphasised the importance of
improved pathways into sport and recreation activities from school. The
organisation noted that the transition from school does not provide easy access
to clubs etc, especially for young people whose parents are not involved in the
activity. Recreation SA suggested that clubs and state sporting bodies could
have greater involvement in school sport and help run competitions and provide
coaches. By joining a school team run by a club, many school leavers will have
a continuous pathway into their sport of choice.
There have been steps taken to improve the linkages
between school and sporting clubs and organisations. The committee recognises
the Active After-school Communities program as one vehicle for this. This is work on which all parties
involved in sport and recreation can further build.
The committee recommends that, in light of the pressure
on available sporting facilities, state and territory education authorities
should work with sporting clubs and organisations, and local communities, to
improve cooperation and access to facilities for children's sporting activities,
There may be a need to relax the strict dress codes in
place for many sports. Some evidence indicated that the dress codes are too
strict or are applied in an inflexible way.
noted that the implementation of its dress code is often inflexible:
At national level our dress code is very flexible, but it is the
states and the clubs that implement those policies and they are very strict.
The skirts are sometimes measured; there are regulations for the length of
sleeves and so on. It is about educating the clubs and the states that that is
not appealing to younger women. They do not want to do that.
Evidence however suggested some more positive examples.
...we attract an incredibly wide range of girls and women to play,
of all different shapes and sizes, and so the netball uniform that has been
developed for the majority of players is one that they feel comfortable in and
do not feel threatened in. They do not need to feel sexy; they are just there
to get out to play and to be free to move and participate. Our uniform has just
been based on that.
Not everyone was happy with netball's arrangements,
All of the sports themselves obviously want to be seen to be up
with the rest of the community, and we have seen the introduction in the last
three years of lycra suits for the netballers. Unfortunately, that has had a
detrimental effect on some of the girls.
The marketing of certain sports can influence dress
code considerations. One witness noted that:
I was Chief Executive of Women’s Cricket Australia,
too. It has always been a choice: do you make them look sexy, or do you dress
them appropriately for the sport? When you have athletes who are sliding on the
ground and taking dives or whatever—
The softballers do look nice in shorts, but they are sliding on
the ground and ripping their legs to pieces. Or do we go back to the old-style
pantaloons or knickerbockers? It is a real choice. Do we market the game so
that we attract some media coverage and they look really good, or do you play
the sport as it needs to be played at the really high level? 
Sports dress codes need to be based on health and
safety considerations. Womensport and Recreation NSW noted that:
...the primary determinant for uniform styles should be health and
safety aspects. In organised competition there should be a graduated range of
uniforms within a fairly broad spectrum, but governed by that health and safety
issue, which allows the widest range of people to comfortably compete in
whatever they are doing. If that was the case then I think that would
significantly resolve it.
Submissions also noted the need for innovative
approaches to encouraging greater involvement of girls and young women in
sport. NSW Sport and Recreation stated that 'best practice' approaches in this
more emphasis on skill development,
participation and enjoyment, rather than competition;
improved school-community links for transition
into community based activities (as discussed above);
early intervention; and
re-orienting programs for adolescent girls in
relation to choice of activities, structure and dress requirements.
Other suggested practical strategies for encouraging greater
participation by and girls and young women included:
Developing programs that cater to the different
needs and abilities of women and girls eg. tailoring training programs to
Providing non-traditional sports and physical activities
to encourage greater participation by women and girls, including those from
diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Experimenting with different sports and lengths
Reducing the duration of competition to
accommodate the lack of time available that many women face in an era of longer
working hours and family responsibilities.
Encouraging and supporting women and girls to
conduct their own competitions.
Providing competition that focus on the fun and
social aspects of sports participation – eg. 'come and try' days are being
trialled in some sports.
Providing an environment that encourages women
and girls to take up sports or activities that they've undertaken in the past
in an effort to win back 'drop-outs'.
Adopting and implementing organisation-specific
anti-harassment policies and procedures.
Ensuring that coaches and other personnel
operate within an agreed code of conduct.
It was also noted that more promotional resources
relating to women's sport need to be available and they should be targeted at
women and girls, parents, teachers, coaches, health professionals and sport
organisers. Such information needs to emphasise the health benefits of physical
activity; ensure that coaches, officials and administrators are aware of women's
health issues; and provide information on lifecycle changes (such as pregnancy
and menopause) and how they affect involvement in sport.
The committee found that:
Girls and younger women have a number of
significant barriers to participation in sport and recreation activities.
The foundations for children's participation in
sport include learning at a young age basic gross motor skills including
running, jumping, kicking, throwing and catching.
There is extensive recognition of the issue of
the barriers faced by girls and women, and there are some programs in place in
individual jurisdictions and individual sports, to combat the problem.
Participation in sport and recreation provides
many positive psychological and physical outcomes for girls and young women.
Strategies need to be developed by governments
and sporting and recreation providers to increase the participation of girls
and younger women in sport and recreation, and these need to include strategies
to improve body image for young women. These strategies could include:
Improvements to the provision of physical
education in schools, in particular aimed at ensuring girls are comfortable and
able to participate equally with boys.
Relaxing the strict dress codes in place for
Improved school-community links for transition into
Providing programs that emphasise participation,
enjoyment and the social aspects of sport, rather than the competitive aspects
Developing programs that cater to the different
needs and abilities of girls and younger women.
Developing a variety of programs, such as
non-traditional sports and physical activities, and programs that provide
different approaches such as experimenting with different lengths of seasons
and reducing the duration of competition.
Encouraging and supporting women and girls to
conduct their own competitions.
Providing a supportive environment that
encourages women and girls to take up sports or activities that they've
undertaken in the past.
The dissemination of information relating to
women's sport targeted at women and girls, parents, teachers, coaches, health
professionals and sport organisers.
The committee recommends that the Australian Sports Commission
inquire into the dress code policies of sports organisations with a view to
encouraging clubs, schools and sports organisations to review these policies.
The committee recommends that sporting organisations,
with the assistance of the Australian Sports Commission and state and territory
sport and recreation authorities, develop strategies to provide more sporting
activities focussed on participation and enjoyment.
Encouraging women's participation
Just as the barriers to participation differ for girls
and women, different strategies have been proposed to encourage their increased
Time considerations and cost of
A number of strategies were suggested to address the
issues of the lack of time and the cost of
participation that many women face.
VicHealth suggested that there is a need for a number
of work-life supports to be adopted including the need to work with employers
to implement work based sick leave, flexible work hours, job sharing, and day
care subsidies. VicHealth also argued that there is a need to work with fathers
and others with social and family responsibilities, to promote understanding
and assist mothers to participate in sport and active recreation.
study, Making Women and Girls More
Active, suggested that efforts should be made to make physical activity a
part of the working day, preferably with employer support, to address the lack
of time many women have for physical activities, for example, lunchtime
exercise groups. The study also suggested that subsidies for women's activities
could be provided to make them more affordable. This possibility was also
identified by the fitness sector peak body Fitness Australia.
Access to affordable and accessible child care options
were canvassed during the inquiry.
It is a general female participation issue in all walks of life
and is not restricted to sport and recreation, be it as a participant or as an
official. We cannot look at it in isolation; it needs to be looked at as the
issue of availability of child care for women to participate more fully in all
aspects of life outside the home. This is just one aspect where the lack of
adequate child-care impacts upon females being able to do what they want to do.
As noted above, while many large fitness centres and
indoor swimming pools provide on site crèches and/or child minding facilities
this is not the case for most sport and recreation organisations, particularly
community based groups.
Submissions and studies suggested a number of options
in relation to the provision of child care. The UK
report referred to above noted that there was a need to investigate options for
the provision of childcare, or assist with childcare costs, and for facilities
to adopt a child-friendly approach so that women can bring their children with
them to the venue. VicSport noted
that some sport and recreation groups have developed 'Mums and Bubs' classes
and similar programs at their facilities to provide access to physical
activities for new mothers. This enables mothers to bring children with them
when they exercise.
suggested the possible option of child care facilities located in schools:
One of the issues for young mothers
is access to facilities that are close to home and that do not require multiple
drop-offs. In some places it was suggested that schools could act as hubs; for
example, with child care in the school grounds where the community centre is so
that there could be one drop-off for everybody. You would not have to take the
child to child care, spend an extra 15 minutes going to the venue to play your
game and then have to repeat your journey to come back, increasing petrol use
and increasing the time taken. If there were a facility such as that, you could
walk in the door, put the child into the creche, go and play your 40 minutes of
netball, pick the child up and go home. There would be easy access at low cost
and they would be more likely to participate.
Submissions noted that the high costs involved in operating
crèches or child care facilities limits the ability of most sport and
recreation organisations, especially community based groups from operating
these facilities. VicSport
suggested that the sport and recreation sector be provided with government
assisted subsidies to provide cost effective child care.
The fitness sector is growing fast and is an area in
which women's membership outstrips men's, and in which organised classes are
overwhelmingly populated by women. The provision of childcare arrangements is
very widespread in this sector, and strongly suggests this is a critical factor
for women. VicSport noted that:
The fitness industries—say, gyms and swimming pools—have done
really well because they have provided creches. Parents can pop in, do aerobics
or spin or have a swim and leave their kids at the creche. They really saw this
coming and made a focal point of it and they have women coming and using the
centre when it is usually empty. That is great, but we do not have the same
structure and we certainly do not have the same money in sport and recreation.
It would be very difficult for the local hockey club to get licensed and do
everything that would need to be done to have a recognised childcare centre
there....One way to do that would be with some assistance from government in
helping with the set-up costs.
Fitness Victoria and
Fitness First Australia both drew attention to the impact of legislation
governing child care on the availability of such care at fitness centres. They
expressed particular concern that if short-term on-site care at fitness centres
had to meet the same standards of staffing and infrastructure as long-term
care, this could lead to fewer fitness centres offering care, reducing
accessibility for women with families.
strategies were proposed to improve the provision of facilities for girls and women.
Submissions argued that facilities need to include separate change rooms and
toilets for women and girls and that these facilities should provide adequate
space and be of an acceptable standard.
The need for more adequate facilities for women will emerge as a more
significant issue as women's participation rates increase.
Ongoing funding programs directed to community based
clubs and associations to provide facilities could continue and be expanded.
cited as an example the Country Football and Netball Program which provides
funding to assist country football and netball clubs to develop facilities (including
shared community, club and social facilities and multi-use facilities) in
rural, regional and outer metropolitan areas.
Submissions also argued that there need to be co-funded
programs between local, State and Commonwealth Governments to improve
infrastructure in both metropolitan and regional areas, especially those that
have demonstrated particular benefits for women.
Other options proposed included:
flexibility of use – considering multi-purpose
use in the construction of new facilities and the use of existing facilities in
traditional 'down time' periods;
the feasibility of alternative constructions,
for example, open sided 'shed' constructions as facilities for indoor sports –
with the aim of providing relatively low cost facilities which would allow all
year round use and night use of facilities; and
urban design that facilitates access to physical
activity including the provision of wide footpaths and access to public open
Playing and training access for women needs to be
improved. When women have to compete with
men for available times for access to playing fields and other facilities, they
are often allocated non-prime time access which often conflicts with their
other priorities such as family commitments or work.
The committee found that:
Women face a number of significant barriers to
participation in sport and recreation activities.
Strategies need to be developed by all levels of
governments and sporting and recreation providers and others to increase the
participation of women in sport and recreation. These strategies could include:
Consideration of work-life issues, such as flexible
work practices by employers, and the attitude of partners, to address the
multiple time demands on women;
Increased provision and/or facilitation of
physical activity, such as exercise groups, in workplaces;
The provision of on-site childcare facilities
and/or assistance with child care costs;
Adoption by facilities of child-friendly
policies to encourage women to bring children with them to venues;
Adoption by facilities of 'time-friendly' policies, especially providing access at the
most convenient times for women;
Consideration by sport and recreation
organisations of forming partnerships with child care providers to further
facilitate child care options;
The increased provision of facilities that cater
for the needs of women, including separate shower, changing facilities and
Funding of community-based clubs and
associations to maintain and upgrade facilities;
Jointly funded Commonwealth, state and territory
programs to improve sports and recreation infrastructure; and
The flexible use of facilities, including
multi-purpose use of facilities.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth, states,
territories and local government recognise the importance of occasional child care
in facilitating women's participation in sport and recreation.
The committee recommends that sport and recreation
provider organisations canvass members to establish the most suitable times
that will enable women to participate in sport and recreation activities and facilitate
access to women during those times.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth encourage
state and territory governments, and especially local government, to address the
lack of women's facilities at sporting venues.
Groups with special needs
Some groups, such as women from lower socio-economic
backgrounds, women with disabilities,
women from CALD backgrounds and Indigenous women generally have lower participation
rates in sport and recreation activities than other women. Women living in
geographically isolated areas also have barriers to participation. The needs of
these groups and strategies to address their particular circumstances are
Low SES groups
Women (and girls) from low socioeconomic status (SES)
backgrounds have lower participation rates than women from higher SES
backgrounds. An analysis of 2002 ABS data found that participation in organised
sport declined where children were from low SES households; or from families
with unemployed parents or in single parent family with an unemployed parent.
A similar ABS study focussing on adults found that participation in
organised sport declined for particular groups including those from low SES status
groups. A direct relationship was found
between participation and the socio-economic index for areas (SEIFA) – an index
of relative disadvantage – with participation rates for each of the quintiles
increasing from 50.7 per cent for the lowest quintile to 75.3 per cent for
the highest quintile.
Conversely, data indicate that, in general, people from
higher SES groups participate more in sport and recreation activities. Data
also indicate that people who participate in organised sport and physical
are more likely to have attained a higher
educational level than the general population;
are more likely to be employed full-time than
are more likely to be employed in professional
occupational groups than other occupations.
Some of the organised sports and physical activities
whose participants tend to have incomes in the lower end of the income range
include dancing, lawn bowls, netball, swimming, ten-pin bowling, tennis,
basketball, and Australian Rules football. These activities are
low-participant-cost sports. While lawn bowls and dancing are able to cater for
older people not in the workforce, and with little or no income, the inclusion
of sports such as tenpin bowling, tennis and netball may be explained by the
player base which includes part-time workers or people not in the workforce.
Submissions outlined the constraints which preclude
women from low SES groups participating in sport and recreation, including the
cost of participation. Recreation SA noted that in Elizabeth Vale, an older low
income area with high unemployment, an outdoor fitness area was opened that
contained a range of fitness equipment usually found in gyms and fitness
centres. The usage has been considerable with the users being mainly middle
aged women. The organisation noted that the success of the venture indicates
that women will be active and participate if there is little or no cost
There are few studies that examine the reasons for the
lower participation rates of women from low-SES backgrounds. One recent
Australian study examined the socio-economic factors explaining differences in
physical activity levels of high-, middle-and low-SES women and provides some
insight into these factors. The study suggested that SES differences in women's
physical activity may be mediated by multiple intrapersonal, social and
physical environmental factors. These include negative early life physical
activity experiences (a consistent theme among those of low/mid-SES), greater
priority given to television viewing (low-SES), lack of time due to work
commitments (low-SES) and neighbourhood barriers (low-SES).
Low-and mid-SES women reported negative childhood
experiences in sport and physical activity and these negative experiences may
contribute to lower levels of participation in later life. Intrapersonal
barriers to physical activity included lack of time and lack of motivation.
Often these barriers appeared linked with low SES women in particular reporting
that they had little discretionary time available and that they were not always
highly motivated to be physically activity. Low-SES women described work
commitments as limiting their ability to be active. Adverse influences of the
work environment on physical activity were not always attributed to long
working hours. Women of low-and mid-SES also reported workplace stress, poor
working conditions, inflexible working hours, as well as social norms whereby
engaging in physical activity in worktime was frowned upon. Low-SES women
commonly expressed negative views about their neighbourhood environment, in
particular in relation to safety. Perceived lack of facilities and cost were
not identified in the study as major barriers to participation in any SES group,
although previous studies found that these factors were important. Many low-SES
women acknowledged that their neighbourhood had good facilities, but that they
lacked the motivation to access them.
Older women are less likely to participate in sport and
recreation than other women. There is a growing body of literature that is
exploring the impact of physical exercise on older women. Research indicates
that it has far greater impact than just the obvious physical outcomes and that
there are also significant social and mental health benefits. The Office for Women
(OfW) is currently funding research into the impact of physical activity for
older women. The study will consider the impact of physical activity and lack
of physical activity on health and other outcomes for mid-age and older
Australian women. The final report is due to be released in May 2007.
One study into barriers to participation amongst older
Australians found that the most common barriers to be lack of time; lack of
motivation; poor health; a perception of being 'too old' or 'active enough';
and childcare commitments. More women than men reported lack of time and
childcare as barriers. Among older adults (aged 55 years and over) the main
five barriers after 'already sufficiently active' were injury or disability; a
perception of being 'too old'; lack of time; and not being the 'sporty type'.
Women were found to be more likely than men to report being 'too old' and not
being the 'sporty type'. Women's barriers appeared to reflect their self image
whilst men's barriers appeared to reflect their health status.
The ACHPER noted the problems of motivating many older
women to participate:
They get out of the habit of being physically active. They get
married, they have a family and they might be physically active as young mothers,
but as they age, there is the old adage: 'the mind's willing, but the body
ain't.' They get out of the pattern of being physically active and then they do
not necessarily see ways of getting into it.
NSW Sport and Recreation argued that 'best practice' in
encouraging greater participation of older women is to implement programs with
high levels of social contact, complemented by multiple reinforcements of the
physical activity message. The ACHPER
also noted that:
There are plenty of opportunities for people to be physically
active. It is just a matter of getting the message out and convincing women
that they are able to do it and that there are lots of health benefits, both
physical and mental, that are associated with it.
A number of recreational pursuits cater for the social
needs of older women. The Women's Golf
Executive of Yowani Country Club referred to the social support network at the
golf club that extends even to older members that have ceased to play the game.
Women with disabilities
Women with disabilities have lower participation rates
than the general population and when compared with men with disabilities. Data
from the ABS 2002 General Social Survey indicates that the overall
participation rate in sport and physical recreation for those with a disability
or long term health condition (LTC) is at lower levels when compared to those
without a disability or LTC (54.6 per cent as compared to 70.2 per cent).
Overall more males (57.3 per cent), participated than females (52 per cent).
This pattern of participation holds for all age groups from 18 years to 65
years and over. The severity or degree of disability appears to be related to
the levels of sports participation. The lowest levels of participation were
observed for those reporting a disability with 'severe' core activity
limitation. Participation levels increased as the degree of limitation reduced.
Walking for exercise ranked as the number one
activity for both genders for all disability types. The ranking of the top-ten
activities however varied for each disability type but typically included
swimming, aerobics/fitness and tennis. Higher levels of non-participation were
observed for those who reported 'no access' to transport or 'difficulty' in accessing
transport; and where self-rated health status was reported as 'fair' or 'poor'.
Women with disabilities face problems in relation to
access to sport and recreation opportunities. It has also been argued that
these women face greater barriers than men with disabilities, being subject to
the stereotypes of passivity and dependence associated both with women and with
people with disabilities.
Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA) outlined the
constraints which preclude women with disabilities participating in sport and
recreation. These include:
- Lack of suitable programs, including
programs which cater specifically for women with disabilities, and lack of an
inclusive component in mainstream commercial and community programs.
- Lack of information – even where
programs exist, many women with disabilities do not receive information about
programs and thus do not participate.
- Lack of access, including the lack of
physical access to premises and lack of suitable equipment.
- Lack of money – women with disabilities
are amongst the most economically marginalised groups in society.
- Lack of transport, and the high cost
of transport – for women with disabilities who rely on wheelchair accessible
taxis, or accessible bus services, it is often impossible to schedule travel in
order to get to an activity.
- Lack of personnel – conducting
programs for women with disabilities is likely to require much more intensive
involvement of personnel.
- Negative attitudes – for many women
with disabilities, their experience of participation in sport, fitness and
recreation has been a negative one. Taunts which focus on lack of ability, or
physical deformity amount to severe harassment, for which the only defence is
to withdraw from the activity. 
WWDA pointed out that research indicated that there was
significant unmet need amongst women with disabilities for programs in which
they could engage. Much of this
need is not amongst high profile disabilities such as wheelchair sports:
My perspective as a person in a wheelchair is that the highest
profile of all disability sports, even though it is skewed to men, is
wheelchair sports. In a way there are some things in place to help women in
wheelchairs to participate in sports, but we have to look across the spectrum at
people who are blind, vision impaired and hearing impaired. What are we going
to do with those people who have severe core activity restrictions? We really
have to look at what can help them to maintain their flexibility and fitness
and at the same time help them in their general interactions in the community.
There is also an almost complete lack of role models:
what information do we have about even Paralympian women
competing? What are the figures about elite sportswomen with disabilities? I do
not think we have them. I also want to look at the media and women with
disabilities. I would say that since Louise Sauvage retired we have not had a
single picture of a woman with a disability in a single national daily. It is
lamentable, even compared with the low coverage of our elite sportswomen. There
is not a thing about Paralympians or women with disabilities doing anything
participatory at a national level—nothing at all.
WWDA proposed a number of strategies to encourage
greater participation of women with disabilities in sport and recreation. These
Funding of more disability specific programs to
cater for all age groups, all disabilities, and with a range of degrees of
impairment from mild to severe. The majority of targeted programs which do exist
cater for young women with disabilities who are still in the education system,
or have just left it, that is, from 15-20 years of age. Programs predominantly
target young women with intellectual disabilities. In addition, some programs
cater for senior women with disabilities. Programs for the 20-60 year age group
do not exist.
Greater attention needs to be paid to developing
integrated programs in which women with disabilities can be supported by carers
or fellow participants who are able-bodied. Mainstream sport, fitness and
recreation organisers do not automatically consider an integration model, and
this will require a cultural and attitudinal change. Few commercial
establishments have a Disability Action Plan, or have had an access audit
conducted of their properties. Encouragement for them to extend the scope of
their fitness agenda to include targeted programs for women with disabilities
could increase the opportunities for participation.
Government funding is needed to encourage
community groups to develop programs targeting women with disabilities. The Well and Able project in the ACT which
promotes heath and well being of women with disabilities is an example of a
successful community development project funded by the ACT Government.
Information – organisations need to ensure that
information on programs is available in locations where women with disabilities
may be contacted, including peak disability organisations and disability
Access – government incentives needs to be provided
to improve physical access to buildings and assist fitness establishments to
purchase accessible equipment and to train staff in their use.
Cost – all organisations which conduct sport and
recreation activities need to develop policies to enable women with
disabilities from low SES groups to participate.
Personnel – conducting programs for women with
disabilities requires more intensive involvement of personnel. The involvement
of volunteers needs also to be considered.
The committee believes that there may need to be
greater accountability of NSOs for their efforts to increase opportunities for
participation by people with disabilities.
People from a culturally and linguistically diverse
background (CALD) are under-represented in the numbers of people participating
in sport and recreation, particularly in the case of CALD women. The ABS has
found that women born in non-English speaking countries have significantly
lower participation rates in sports and physical recreational activities (46.3
per cent) than women born in Australia
(63.6 per cent) or born in main English-speaking countries (66.5 per cent).
Men born in non-English speaking countries had a participation rate in sport
and physical activity of 56 per cent.
The OfW is undertaking research on the characteristics
of CALD women who participate in sport and recreation activities, for example,
age, labour force status, education, number of years resident in Australia, and
the factors that may encourage or inhibit CALD women from participating in
sport and recreation activities.
For CALD women, studies have identified the need for
participation rates to be targeted and increased, not only in traditional
sports but also in other culturally-specific leisure activities. Barriers to
participation include lack of information, language and communication problems,
family and cultural traditions, and racism. Many sporting organisations do not
have the resources, understanding or willingness to accommodate the particular
needs of women from different cultures.
A study by Professor
Taylor of the University
of Technology, Sydney
on the sport and recreation needs of CALD women in NSW identified a number of
barriers to participation. These included:
a lack of
information about how to access programs;
lack of female-only facilities;
lack of knowledge or empathy on the part of providers
in relation to different cultures and their requirements;
lack of programs that take into account the
needs of all family members, eg both women and younger children;
lack of knowledge of the benefits of physical
reluctance of many women to join exiting sport
and recreation programs (and a desire to participate within their own cultural
a perception that sport is too aggressive and
lack of proficiency and lack of confidence in
the use of English;
the prohibitive cost of sport and recreation
the lack of female role models within ethnic
communities who can encourage others to get involved in sport and recreation
lack of access to transport to venues.
suggested a number of strategies for sporting and recreation providers to
facilitate participation by CALD women. These included:
ensure providers have a clear understanding of
the ethnic composition of their local community;
develop a listing of facilities that can be used
as female only venues;
establish child care services to allow women
with younger children to participate in programs;
develop a program of physical activity
participation that incorporates education about the health, social and community
benefits of physical activity;
establish programs that are specifically
designed to cater for the identified needs of the target group;
promote sport and recreation activities that
emphasise the social aspects of participation;
ensure wide promotion of programs and services
through non-traditional outlets eg, places of worship, community centres;
provide printed information in community
languages. Where programs are only available in English, ensure staff are aware
of how to incorporate the needs of women whose proficiency in English is poor;
cost – conduct pilot and entry level programs at
minimal cost to participants to initiate involvement;
role models – target girls and women that are
involved in sport and recreation to speak at schools, women's clubs and ethnic
transport – develop program-based transportation
schemes such as car pooling and community buses. Choose venues that are easily
accessible by public transport;
work with potential participants to develop
non-exclusionary programs; and
adopt flexible requirements for sports clothing.
Dress code considerations are also an important
consideration for women from certain ethnic minorities or those with low
incomes. One submission noted many girls and women from ethnic backgrounds do
not feel comfortable wearing certain types of clothing while playing sport. Womensport
and Recreation NSW argued that there is a need to relax requirements for sports
clothing (where they are not governed by safety issues) and for sports
organisation to be aware of the clothing requirements of specific ethnic
groups. They also supported the
provision of discrete facility usage periods in facilities. The organisation
pointed to the example of Bankstown City Council which has been trialling
discrete female use periods at one of their swimming pools.
noted that programs and services that incorporate 'best practice' for CALD
women are scarce in NSW, especially outside major metropolitan areas. While
resource constraints, eg budgets, staff, facilities, account for some of this
inadequacy its main cause appears to be a lack of understanding of the needs of
these women and inappropriate methods to facilitate their participation. Women
only sessions, outreach workers of the same sex or religion and the employment
of leisure/sport centre staff from non-English speaking backgrounds were found
to be successful strategies for increasing participation. CALD women also indicated
a strong preference for segregated programs. Professor
Taylor noted that there was a need for the
introduction of more ethnic-specific and women-only programs and that these
programs need to be developed in close consultation with CALD women.
ABS data on Aboriginal communities indicates that in
2005, Indigenous women were less likely to participate in a sport or physical
activity than Indigenous men (36 per cent compared to 52 per cent). The overall participation rate of
the Indigenous population in 2002 was less than half (46 per cent) compared
with almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of the non-Indigenous population.
populations, participation declines with age, however, there is a much greater
difference between the participation levels of Indigenous and non-Indigenous
people in the older age groups. For
those aged 45 years and over, the rate of participation of Indigenous people is
less than half that of the non-Indigenous population. The ASC noted that '[r]esearch has
shown Indigenous women and girls, particularly in regional and remote areas,
are less likely to participate in sport because they do not have access to
sport programs or competitions'.
noted that sport is important to young Indigenous people because the 'playing
field' is seen as a place where equality can be achieved with non-Indigenous
people. Sport is a vehicle in Indigenous communities to assist with addressing
health problems such as obesity and diabetes (type 2) and also diverts
juveniles away from risk taking activities (criminal activity, substance
misuse, anti-social behaviour).
A key factor
hindering participation is the lack of access to suitable facilities in both
rural and urban areas. Another key issue is the need for cross-cultural
awareness by non-Indigenous people who deliver services and training, including
coaches, referees and others. One submission commented on the cultural
barriers that are faced by women from Indigenous backgrounds, particularly in
These cultural issues tend to be exacerbated by socio-economic
issues, particularly in remote and regional areas, and particularly in relation
to travel and other commitments required to participate.
The Committee believes that Indigenous women need to
have access to opportunities to participate in sport and recreational
activities and that their particular needs should be taken into account in
providing services and programs.
Women living in geographically isolated areas
ABS data for 2002 indicate that the rate of
participation in sport and physical activities was slightly higher by residents
of capital cities (63.4 per cent) than those resident elsewhere in Australia
(60.6 per cent). Men resident in capital cities had higher participation rates
than women (67.1 per cent as compared with 59.9 per cent), however the participation rates for men and
women were similar for those resident outside the capital cities (61.2 per cent
– for men – as against 60.1 per cent for women).
Analysis of this 2002 ABS data found that those living
in an inner regional area are more likely to participate relative to major city
dwellers. Data also show that those living in outer regional or remote areas
are neither more nor less likely to participate as those living in major
Although people living in less densely settled areas are
just as active as their urban counterparts, they do not have access to the same
range of recreational or sporting facilities or to the multitude of sporting
activities and teams that may result from a larger population base. However,
opportunities to participate are often particularly valued as a social driver
in sustaining regional and remote communities.
Some of the difficulties encountered in fostering
participation in sport and recreation in regional and remote areas were
highlighted during the inquiry. The Wimmera Regional Sports Assembly
highlighted some of the challenges that girls face in regional areas:
Girls are interested in sport, but teams are
quite small. It is the more skilled girls who get an opportunity to increase
their skills, and those girls who are not as good may not even get the
opportunity to play.
Due to small populations in regional and rural
areas, there are often not enough girls with ability and interest to field
The time and distance that students have to
travel to participate, especially in higher level competition causes problems.
These demands often discourage further participation at higher levels.
Smaller communities are also very traditional in
their outlook on sport. They tend to offer the 'big four' – tennis, cricket,
football and netball. If women and girls do not access these sports, there few
options for them in their own towns. Again, the towns lack critical mass to
start a new sport.
The NT Government commented on the problems of
remoteness in the Territory and the impact this has on participation. These
factors including small populations, the distance between towns and communities,
high travel costs involved, and limited facilities in smaller communities. The Department noted the 'serious
challenges' that geographical remoteness plays in promoting female
participation in sport and recreation in the Territory.
The Committee believes that women living in geographically
remote areas need to have access to opportunities to participate in sport and
recreational activities and that their particular needs should be taken into
account in providing services and programs to these areas.
The evidence received by the committee appeared to
contain some clear messages about how women's participation in sport and
recreation can be encouraged. High rates of participation and rapid growth
amongst women members occurs where there is convenience, flexibility, child
care, and non-competitive activities. There is a message here to all sport and
recreation providers that if they pay attention to women's needs, such as for
childcare, women will participate.
There are a number of constraints on participation that
disproportionately affect women generally, and some groups of women in
particular. The lack of time reported by women, as well as convenience and
childcare constraints, were prominent amongst these. The committee would be
concerned if, as was being suggested by the fitness industry, government
regulation could make it more difficult for women to make use of fitness
centres because of limited childcare opportunities.
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