Penryn Campus parkrun celebrates International Women’s Day

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Last Saturday, 5 March, Penryn Campus parkrun marked International Women’s Day (IWD) by encouraging runners and volunteers to wear something purple and celebrate the women they think are awesome.

IWD has a history of advocating for women in sport, notably calling on media outlets to cover female sports and athletes with the same amount of coverage afforded to men. This year’s #BreakTheBias theme has called attention to the gender gap between men and women’s participation in sports, representation, support, and pay. Whilst IWD report a rise in women’s involvement in organised sport, they acknowledge there’s still much to be done to address gender biases in global and local sporting communities.

At Saturday’s parkrun, I asked volunteers and runners what barriers they thought stopped some women from participating in sports, and what they felt would enable and encourage more women to take part – particularly in parkruns.

I began by asking Penryn Campus parkrun’s event director, Catherine Leyshon, why it’s important for parkrun to acknowledge International Women’s Day.

Catherine: “In general, women participate less in organised sport. We think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day and encourage more women to do parkrun, as it’s an inclusive, friendly, and supportive environment in which people can walk, run, or jog. Celebrating IWD at parkrun is also about getting women into volunteering. When people volunteer, they enjoy greater well-being, they make friends, it’s a boost to the mood, and this is especially important as we come out of COIVD, where women took on a greater deal of caring and domestic work, and really felt the pressures of working at home.”

“We need a diverse and visible range of women in sports, that people can identify with and be inspired by.”

In response to my questions, Charlotte Cross, Saturday’s race director, told me:

“Some women think that they’re not good enough to participate in sports. I think a big part of this comes from when you were younger and at school, where sports were divided between girls and boys. Some girls don’t get to take part in certain sports, meaning that when they get a bit older, they have no confidence in going and trying them.

I think role models are an important part of encouraging women and girls to get involved in sports. We need a diverse and visible range of women in sports, that people can identify with and be inspired by.”

Volunteers Claire, Sarah, and Helen made similar remarks:

Claire: “I think women fear how they look, that they’re not slim enough or haven’t got the right body shape to participate in certain sports. If there were more inclusive sports available at the grassroots level, and advertisement promoted all shapes, sizes, and levels of fitness, then I think more women, and people in general, would come along and have a go.”

Sarah: “I think some sports are perceived as male orientated, and if so, women might question whether they feel able to join in. I think more information and support from women in sports would help encourage others to participate in events like parkrun. It’s also important to let people know that parkrun isn’t about going for the fastest time, it’s about being outside, and feeling part of something – no matter what who you are or what you look like.”

Helen: “I think lots of women feel self-conscious. They worry about fitting into tight sports kit, or of being too slow. We could do more to promote parkrun as an inclusive and non-stigmatised event, so more women feel like they can come and enjoy it without fear of failure.”

It’s evident from the responses I received to my questions, that there’s still a pervasive stigma around women’s bodies, and what sort of bodies can participate in certain sports. What was positive however, was a general suggestion that events like parkruns can be effective spaces of reclamation and change for women in sports. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to promote, not just professional female athletes, but the women who pull on pink high-viz tabards, or lace up running shoes to turn out to local parkruns every Saturday. By creating more female role models in local sporting communities, we can perhaps move closer to breaking sporting biases.