Credit: GU Volleyball via Facebook

Addressing gender inequality in UofG Sport

By Thomas Harris

Here are some next steps for further improving gender equality this academic year. 

Throughout the last academic year, Glasgow University Sport Association (GUSA) and University of Glasgow Sport (UofG Sport) have taken action and implemented programmes  in an effort to make progress regarding gender equality in University sport. Despite the success of these initiatives, there is a need for further improvement. An anonymous poll conducted last year found that 30% of respondents felt unsafe using the University’s gym facilities. A number of quotes were left on the poll expressing participant’s views on the matter. One participant stated: “Maybe their behaviour doesn’t sound bad. But it’s such a horrible feeling you’re already in quite a vulnerable position in the gym – having someone actively and consistently making you uncomfortable”. 

Last October, during the sixth annual Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week, GUSA introduced a female, non-binary and transgender hour, in which a studio room at the Stevenson gym was booked with a personal trainer in attendance. The goal was to create a safer, more comfortable space for women and people from other minority groups, away from unwanted attention, so they could exercise and work towards their fitness goals. 

Creating an initial safe space for people who feel uncomfortable when attending the gym is, of course, a mark of important progress at the University. However, this campaign addresses an issue that is very much ongoing, so there is definitely a need to build on it. Given the positive impact this programme can have, is a single, one-hour-a-week slot truly enough? Surely holding more regular sessions at various times would allow more people to get involved, building an even stronger community. Additionally, the session should be better advertised. A scroll through the GUSA and UofG Facebook pages found no posts in 2023 dedicated specifically to the session. Raising awareness and being active on social media would reach more people who have felt uncomfortable at the gym and could benefit from the programme. 

This issue of a lack of advertising can be extended to GUSA’s LGBTQ+ History Month campaigns. Throughout 2021 and 2022, there were consistent posts by GUSA during LGBTQ+ History Month about events such as the rainbow laces bake sale and LGBTQ+ dodgeball in the union debates chamber. This academic year, however, no such posts were made on the relevant Instagram or Facebook pages. There were posts in support of other important campaigns such as ‘Movember’, but not LGBTQ+ issues. Moving forward, we need to see more consistency in advertising so that more people can show their support for a more inclusive sporting community.

Another important measure taken last year was the implementation of the ‘Ask for Angela’ service. The idea is that if anyone is the victim of inappropriate behaviour or feels at all uneasy, they can approach a member of staff, use one of the emergency phones or fill out an online form and “ask for Angela”, thereby reporting the issue and gaining assistance from staff. Ask for Angela is an example of GUSA taking a step in a positive direction, and initiatives like this are vital in combating inappropriate behaviour in the gym. 

Within club-specific sport, last year was particularly iconic with the first-ever female Varsity rugby fixture taking place between Glasgow and Strathclyde’s women’s teams. This really was a historical event. Varsity is a very long-standing tradition, so to finally be inclusive of women’s rugby is brilliant for the sport. The match itself was an incredibly high-quality competition. However, despite the event very much being a step in the right direction for club sport, there was a glaring problem. As great as the game was, many attendees of the fixture missed out on the excitement with the pre-party buses arriving halfway through the match. Given the amount of dedication and training that goes into preparing for a match like this, and the fact the event was sold out, it seemed very unfair and disrespectful to the women’s team that they had to play to a half-filled stand for so long. It would be unthinkable for the buses to arrive halfway through the men’s match, so the same administrative effort should be shown towards the women’s team. There’s a clear disparity here that should be ironed out in the future.

Overall, across the last academic year, GUSA and UofG Sport took many steps towards creating a more inclusive community in sport. There was a clear impetus on helping people feel safe and comfortable when exercising, and valued when competing. However, gender inequality in university sports remains incredibly prominent. The gym can still be a disappointingly uncomfortable place for many women, non-binary and transgender people to visit, and female sporting clubs are not always given the same consideration as the male equivalent. Sporting bodies should further improve on advertising their initiatives, meeting the needs of minority groups and providing the same level of administrative consideration across all genders. There has been clear progress in the last year, but more needs to be done.


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