It is International Women’s Day 2023, and this year’s theme is ‘Embrace Equity’.
The inaugural IWD took place in 1911 and remains an important annual milestone for working to advance women’s equality with the day belonging to everyone, everywhere. In previous years, I have used the day to make extra effort to celebrate the truly amazing women that surround me, and this year will be no different. However, with the theme in mind and the fact that I am writing this as the first female President of Swim Wales then this year, for me, it has even more significance.
We are surrounded by incredible female role models throughout Welsh aquatics. From swimming teachers, to officials, to club committees, coaches and of course the athletes. At last year’s Commonwealth Games, our two medal winners were both female and it was fantastic to see Medi Harris and Lily Rice flying the flag.
Back to the theme of this year’s celebratory day…Embrace Equity. This campaign theme is designed to get people talking about why equal opportunities are not enough and that true equity lies in giving people what they need to achieve the same thing as opposed to giving them the same thing. It is different as everyone is not the same and they often do not start from the same place.
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits” (Susan K Gardner).
In aquatic sports, competition and participation at every level, we have some way to go to truly embrace equity. True equity means not having a ‘one size fits all’ to many aspects of participation and competition and that is extremely difficult to achieve. For example, how many women are excluded from considering competing in events where competition swimwear is regulated because they cannot source religion appropriate racewear? Where are their female role models?
Talking of role models, it has been fantastic to see prominent female athletes talk openly about periods and how that might affect their performance and their general wellbeing. Aimee Wilmott contributed to a piece in Swimming World magazine on this very subject and highlighted how more needed to be done to normalise the conversation about this and the impact that it has on performance, participation and retention within the sport. She flagged the relatively low number of female coaches within the performance programmes in swimming as being part of the challenge but also highlighted that this is changing, albeit slowly.
Our current energy crisis is also in danger of hitting participation in aquatic sports of many disadvantaged groups. Smaller leisure venues and pools who are able to offer a more diverse activity programme such as women only sessions, are being threatened with closure due to the exclusion from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. Many of these venues are easier to access than the larger ones, being at the heart of communities and often cheaper. The closure of such premises will have a direct impact on disadvantaged groups and women are included in that. A study by The Lancet (2022) found that women experienced worse social and economic consequences of health challenges (COVID-19 pandemic) than men and that it will take a concentrated effort with health and wellbeing strategies to reverse the effects.
It is clear, that on #IWD23 there remains a lot to be done to further progress gender equality but there is also still a lot to celebrate. I am proud to be associated with Swim Wales, a national governing body that continually strives to improve gender parity within the organisation. Equity means creating an inclusive world and it would be great to see more women and girls considering a role in aquatic sports going forward following a concerted effort from the aquatic sports infrastructure across the UK. In order to collectively embrace equity, we can all challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias and seek out inclusion. This collective activism will help to remove barriers to gender equity going forward and help to create a sense of belonging and recognise that women and girls sometimes require more than a level playing field to experience equity.