Is International Women’s Day needed for the sport of climbing and the outdoor industry?

I was inspired to write this post today by two things today: firstly, my boyfriend Paolo called me this morning and said it’s International Women’s Day today and said how frustrated he was that it was still needed. 

I had to cut him off as I had to drop my daughter at school.

I then listened to the Radio 2 breakfast show at home and heard how England’s professional women rugby players are not paid, and how the Harlequin’s Women’s team are trying to get the biggest crowd they can for this Saturday’s match.  My mind turned to Arrampica and the industry we are operating in and is International Women’s day still needed for us.

The first person I spoke to was Kate Phillips, Finance Director, formerly Managing Director of Lakeland Climbing Centre in Kendal. Kate thinks Women’s Day is still needed for the outdoor industry but less so for the sport of climbing.  Kate suggested this is partly down to the rise of indoor climbing which has increased access for women.

Anita Aggarwal, GB para-climber squad member, has been telling me about events such as the Women’s Trad Festival, opening outdoor climbing up for women.  Anita and myself are members of some of the many Facebook groups for women in climbing and other outdoor activities.  Indeed, it seems that social media has been a big driver in opening up the sport of climbing to more women as mentioned in Climbing Magazine’s article ‘No Man’s Land : The Rise of Women in Climbing’.  They also mention that climbing is a sport where women’s strength to weight ratio can offset lower levels of power and reach.

Climbing is now an Olympic sport and as Lizzy Yarnold, the skeleton double Olympic gold medallist mentioned to BBC Sport, “The great thing about Olympic sports is that funding is the same whether you are male or female”.

The British Mountaineering Council and Mountain Training Board promote indoor and outdoor climbing and mountaineering.  Both are actively work to engage women. For example, the BMC is involved in the Women in Adventure Film Competition, they support the Women’s Climbing Symposium and they have their own campaign This Girl Can Climb.

In 2017 Mountain Training were working on a plan to address the gender gap, including more female registering on to award schemes and more females delivering their training and assessment courses.

I am a member of the Facebook group Women in Mountain Training, they state that “only 19% of our award holders are female. Women represent a much higher figure when we look at people who participate in these outdoor activities, with 36% of active climbers, walkers and mountaineers being female”.  They want to promote discussion within the group and gain insight to help them close this gender gap.

Paolo’s impression is that we get a higher percentage of females on Arrampica’s training courses than we do on our assessments.  Indeed, I have done my training for the Mountain Leader (Summer) and the Climbing Wall Award but have done my assessment for neither.  Currently at Arrampica, all our trainers are male, we have had female trainers in the past and we would like to again.

Route setting is an area where women are slowly becoming involved, but perhaps like rugby because of the physical nature of route setting this is still seen as something that is a stereotypically male activity.

Anita told me that she has been on quite a few courses run by females with predominately female participants and she has enjoyed the fact they are not so male orientated.

Kate points out that “you only have to look at the statistics for senior positions in our National Governing Bodies and Manager Level employees to know that here is some block for women progressing in our industry.” She also feels that “our society still has difficulties accepting women who want to engage in risk activities”.

So clearly even within climbing we do still need International Women’s Day to work towards gender parity.

Why not share your views with us and the International Women’s Day Campaign Theme hashtag #pressforprogress.

Post by Jenny Haygarth

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