Gender equality in sport has drawn national attention this year with the launch of the AFLW, however for the last 7 years one Melbourne Council has been using its control over sports fields to encourage clubs to give more girls a go.
Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s north has more than 50 sports grounds, most of which are used for soccer, AFL and cricket.
Back in 2009, only 8% of people using Moreland’s grounds for organised sporting activities were female. Across the country, media stories about male sports stars treating women badly began to make people question the social impact of male-dominated clubs.
And so, armed with the research to back it up, the staff and Councillors at Moreland began work on a new approach – what if they allocated the best sports grounds to the clubs that actively encouraged and included women and girls in all facets of their club?
The result was the development of a policy which tied ground allocation to female participation. It was a carrot and stick approach which had never been tried by a Victorian Council, and it has been paying off.
In the first three years, the proportion of women using Moreland’s sports grounds rose to 15%, and the figure now sits at 22% – an astonishing 161% increase in female participation.
And it’s not just women for whom the playing field is being levelled. Clubs with teams or programs for juniors are also more likely to get their grounds allocations, as are clubs which provide opportunities for people with disabilities and people from diverse cultures.
Moreland Mayor Helen Davidson said the switch has made sports clubs in Moreland more welcoming for women and families.
“There’s a dual benefit to it,” she says, “females have more opportunities to keep fit and healthy, but our community and relationships are also healthier when women are included in sport.
“The positive effects of incentivising women's participation in Moreland's sports clubs reaches beyond the playing field. It touches on deep social issues of gender equality and positive family relationships,” said Cr Davidson.
Cr Davidson said at first some clubs were concerned about their ability to attract female players, but the council supported them to do so.
The initiative also promoted some male-dominated clubs to make the effort to link up with clubs offering sports more traditionally popular with women. One club now boasts AFL football, cricket, netball, softball and little athletics under the one umbrella.
“There’s nothing wrong with women continuing be passionate about traditionally female-dominated sports like netball, but what these links and have done is brought a range of sports and a mix of genders under the one club, so men and women, young and old can all socialise, train and appreciate one another’s achievements.”
The initiative recently earned Moreland City Council the VicHealth Local Government Initiative of the Year Award at the prestigious 2016 VicSport Awards.
The council has also invested significantly in facility upgrades and improving park lighting and other features that make sporting environments more welcoming and help women to feel safer getting to and from practice at night.