Female only swimming sessions will no longer be held at Dursley pool after a complaint by one man was made under the Equalities Act 2010 – the Council was contacted and asked to justify why women only sessions were offered as they were likely to be in breach of the Act.
Whilst one’s immediate reaction may be WTF, this is vexatious bullS*&%, the decision to stop the sessions is apparently driven by concerns of adhering with the law.
We’re not an expert on the Equalities Act, but one can’t help but wonder that this use of the legislation is perhaps not the purpose for which it was intended.
Core guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission sets out that there are exceptions to the general rules of equality law, and subject to meeting particular criteria, female only as well as mixed swimming sessions are actually given as an example of one such exception.
There also seems to be an issue of proportionality here – this appears to be a one hour weekly session – was there, could there have been a discussion about how best to resolve this? What prompted the complaint – is this an opportunity to understand the needs and concerns of the different stakeholders involved? Could it be that a men only session as well as a female only session is needed, and is possible?
Perhaps there is a particular circumstance unique to this pool that means unlike many other pools across the UK, they cannot hold women only sessions?
That conversation is particularly important as there is, quite simply, a crisis in swimming in the UK:
In the past decade over 1/2 million women gave up swimming in the UK because of fears about how they look. And more than three times as many women as men stopped swimming between 2005 and 2014 – indicating the value in women only swim sessions
Back in 2015 Claire Cohens article in the Telegraph described how the This Girl Can campaign that encourages women to get active and helps break down barriers to sports participation, was driven by research from Sport England that identified that a fear of judgment was the biggest barrier to participation in sport; and that fear, “far outweighs women’s confidence to exercise.” Concerns ranged from embarrassment over sporting ability to worries about appearance – women only sessions help to reduce such barriers.
Female only swim sessions are important and they are needed.
Of course the barriers to participation in sport and swimming and the health crisis in the UK is not limited to women:
It’s time no just to talk, but to take positive action on swimming as a life skill, a gateway to well being for everyone – learning to swim is a human right.
It was really exciting to see that Catherine West MP is setting up an all party group on swimming to address access and participation and other issues.
The article in the local newspaper the Gazette, says that the council are looking at whether the sessions can be reinstated under Sport England’s guidelines. We shall see, but in the meantime, the action to cancel the sessions, no doubt raises concerns that there is a lack understanding and care towards women in sport in the local administration. In the meantime you can sign the petition to reinstate the sessions here.
I wrote this quickly having seen the petition on twitter. I just finished writing and saw this post. Yep.
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