Women in Canberra want a choice, says Sally Kalek
Canberra has ‘mum and bub’ movie session times, women-only ‘Chicks at the flicks’ sessions, single-sex schools, women’s magazines, targeted programs and services for women, award-winning women-only gyms. Yet we are faced with barriers when it comes to accessing women-only swimming sessions at our local pools.
We all understand and value the wider benefits of pool access for our children and adult swim squads, water polo and swimming lessons. So why should a few sessions a week for Canberra women to swim be a problem?
Melbourne and Sydney have successful women-only swimming pool sessions. NSW. McIvers Baths between Coogee beach and Wiley’s Baths have ocean views and remain a popular spot for women since before 1876. Despite a court challenge in 1995, the area was granted an exception under the Anti-Discrimination Act to continue operating as a women-only venue.
Support for this initiative in Canberra is widespread and includes, Life Saving Australia’s Sean Hodges, Labor’s John Hargreaves, ACT Greens Meredith Hunter, Gungahlin advocates Alan Kerlin and Bill Reid, executive director of Canberra YWCA, Rebecca Vassarotti, ACT Multicultural Ambassador, Sam Wong, Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s Tanya Wiseman and writer and women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist. We also have support from some of our women- only gyms in the ACT.
With International Women’s Day celebrated recently, it is a reminder that while we honour the advances that our women have made throughout time, we still face struggles. Our request to Canberra pool owners for women only swimming sessions is about upholding women’s choices.
Women of all ages have reported various reasons why they prefer to exercise and swim in a women-only setting. Some of the reasons include modesty, feeling more confident trying new things in a women-only space, wearing what they feel comfortable swimming in and not feel that men are watching them, enjoying the social aspects of exercise and the support network provided in a women-only space. Others have stated their discomfort is due to body image concerns, some older women feel more comfortable in a women-only setting, others recovering from surgery, women who want to breastfeed openly but are conscious of male gazes, cultural or religious reasons, and many based on personal preference and choice.
As a clinical psychologist I see women who have experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Some of these women prefer to be supported by females, needing a women-only space at times to feel safe and until they feel more confident. Tanya Wiseman from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre reported that they have had requests for women-only programs such as self-defence classes etc. for similar reasons.
Really, what are we asking for? We are asking for space for women to have fun swimming with other women, is that unreasonable? I don’t believe so, and many would agree with me. If Sydney and Melbourne can have long running successful women-only swimming programs, why can’t we?
I live with, work with, and know the most wonderful men, but I choose to exercise and swim with the sisterhood of women.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to add your support.
Sally Kalek is a clinical psychologist in Canberra. She has had worked in both the private and public sectors. Sally has a long history of community activity, including board membership of the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services ACT, various school P&C’s, fund raising and community events. Sally has an intimate understanding of the mental health issues impacting on people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Her particular interests are with women, children and family issues and fostering better support services for these groups.