Advancing Women and Sport on Campus

by Sloan Peterson

by Sara McLara

YOU PLAY BALL LIKE A GIRL!

Above are the famous words said by Hamilton “Ham” Porter, which are perhaps the first words we may have heard as children that introduced us to gender stereotypes. Regardless if this phrase is still often referenced on the playground, leaders in our campus community are taking the steps to make words like these something positive. Leadership Advancement for Women and Sport (LAWS) is a non-profit organization which offers various events on campus and in the community to help females thrive in sport and leadership. We sat down with the founder, Dr Marge Holman, to give us more insight on the initiative.

Where and how did the idea of LAWS come about?

After years as a faculty member, in the then Faculty of Physical and Health Education, through the 1970s and 80s with responsibilities as the Director of Women’s Sport and ‘Lancerette’ volleyball coach, I became more attuned to the existence of systemic inequities. I worked with others through the athletic leagues and Faculty for change but realized that there was a need for wider outreach. This motivated me to gather a group of community women in the early 1990s who had expressed a desire to increase competitive opportunities for girls in sport. This group met regularly to strategize while providing educational events for the community on an ad hoc basis. The response was positive and interest grew. As a result, the group began to formalize in a more structured way and expanded their mandate from participation opportunities to leadership values that sport offers. It began with no formal name – the events drove its identity. Leadership education is central to its work and is intended to be complementary to others. Awareness has been the greatest impetus for change.

What motivated you? What were the first couple years like?

The motivation for LAWS was twofold – the first was personal and the second was ethical. The founders of LAWS and those who joined later typically had had a positive experience in sport and wanted other females to have similar opportunities. Yet at the same time during those experiences, they were able to see that there were existing inequities which increased in the leadership roles as the participation opportunities grew. The second motivating factor was the simple unfairness that inequities presented. There were legal challenges that followed legislation, particularly in the USA that generated significant change even in Canada. LAWS became a local voice for this information to be distributed. The legal and ethical obligations of organizations to address the needs and responsibilities of sports organizations became visible.

When we started, there was limited support, even from females. At first, it is likely that many thought this would be a passing effort and would go away. But as we became more grounded, resistance grew in subtle was resistance that continues to this day. Sexism in sport is alive and strong leaving a great deal of work to be done as we move forward. Many females silently support LAWS but do not actively support LAWS – perhaps because they do not fully understand its need or perhaps because they do not want to face a backlash from male peers. Males who support us also need to be very secure personally and professionally to push for support of females and their opportunities. This is not an organization for females – it is a social issue that affects all. Without internal support, it is difficult to get resource support such as sponsorship and funding.

The struggles of LAWS and how to overcome them?

Our greatest struggle is human resources. The organization is driven by volunteers and the job ahead of us is not small. There continues to be a great deal of work to do in order to achieve equity. It takes many people female and male, to continue our work. Too few people are trying to generate change that is embedded in systems, not just superficial, short-term change…We continue to advocate and work with the community and political leaders to share our message and encourage them to provide organizational commitments. Policies need to be followed with action. This needs to become a priority for systemic change to occur.

What do you think of the strides we are making today in gender equity in sport?

We cannot underestimate the progress that has been made. But at the same time, we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to continue to grow. There is much to be done. Often people see the Olympic successes of our female athletes for example, but they fail to see that males hold the majority of coaching, officiating, and administrative positions. Men still control women’s sport. That is not to say that women’s sport should not have male leaders – most are outstanding and have been critical to the progress that has been made. Ideally, there would be an equal number of females and males in both women’s and men’s sport. Successful female leaders would not be the anomaly but a norm. This is a long way off. We need to build on the many successes to date. But this does not just happen by osmosis – it will take a concerted effort through planning, commitment and support.

For more information, please visit www.lawswindsor.ca/become-a-member

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