By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO
Since 1996 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has begun to fully embrace gender equality, unfortunately this is yet to have a ripple effect on grassroots participation by females around our local sporting clubs.
What we saw in London, for the first time ever, was all countries competing with female representatives. This in itself was a defining moment in terms of gender equality in sport, especially the sight of a female runner from Saudi Arabia taking to the track in front of 80,000 cheering spectators from around the world.
We need to remember that as recently as the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 32 countries sent only male competitors.
The IOC Executive Committee has made it a priority to make the Olympic Games as representative of both genders as possible, and since Atlanta in 1996 has increased the amount of events open to females; and any new Olympic events in the future will now be open to both sexes.
Equality at an elite level is sure to have a flow on effect upon our local sporting clubs as it gives women role models to aspire to.
This will hopefully help to address the fact that women are less inclined to participate in sports than men; 24 per cent compared with 28 per cent. The rate steadily drops with age.
Sporting clubs which promote an inclusive culture, like having women in meaningful roles such as board positions, coaching and administrative roles, are leading the way in addressing gender equality issues.
Sporting clubs play a significant role in helping to shape community values, attitudes and behaviour. Research shows us there is a proven link between gender equality and building respectful relationships between men and women.
Numerous studies show off-field factors linked to lower participation rates include harassment, cultural and social pressures and social stereotyping.
VicHealth is currently striving to make sports clubs healthier places, with $3.3 million worth of funding.
Clubs that participate in our Healthy Sporting Environments program will strive to become healthier by addressing six preventable illness risk factors, of which one is to increase the number of women, culturally and linguistically diverse people and Indigenous people in local sport.
The Olympics should inspire even more women to get involved in sport. By making local sports more accessible and welcoming to women, the associated health benefits will flow through the whole community.