By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO
Letter to the editor first published in The Bendigo Advertiser, 19 July 2012.
The AFL’s annual Women’s Round (20 to 22 July) is a great time for Victorians to reflect on the positive and healthy influence participation in sport can have on a woman’s life, both on and off the field.
On the field, we know participation in physical activity improves mental health and well-being. However, we also know women are less inclined to participate in sports than men; 24 per cent compared with 28 per cent. The rate steadily drops with age.
Numerous studies show off-field factors linked to lower participation rates include harassment, cultural and social pressures and social stereotyping.
Sporting clubs which promote an inclusive culture, including having women in roles such as board positions, coaching and administrative roles, are leading the way in addressing gender equality issues.
There is a proven link between gender equality, building respectful relationships and preventing violence against women. Sporting clubs play a significant role in helping to shape community values, attitudes and behaviour and can help men and women address family violence.
To provide educational advice on the benefits of equality within sporting clubs, VicHealth has funded more than $1 million to AFL Victoria to create football clubs which are safe, accessible, inclusive and equitable for the whole community.
The program, Fair Game Respect Matters, is based on research that shows that where relationships between men and women are equal and based on respect, then the rates of violence against women can be reduced.
The program is being piloted in the Northern Football League, Ballarat Football League and Essendon District Football League.
We are also working with local sports clubs of all codes across Victoria to support them in becoming more inclusive places for women.
VicHealth encourages all codes to seriously look at ways to ensure women have active and meaningful roles in sports.