Stop the DQ this International Women's Day

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This Friday is International Women's Day. I'm going to do something counterintuitive and talk about a man. My friend Bruce… in the context of systemic discrimination against women.

Last year I was a member of a planning committee for a fundraising event. The committee wanted to recognize coaching contributions in youth sports. One night I sat at a committee meeting and listened as the coaches being considered were listed. To my astonishment not one of the ten was a woman. When I questioned this, I was told the members of the committee considering candidates couldn’t find a female coach that met the essential criterion: coaching on a volunteer basis in this community for at least thirty years.

 I offered up suggestions of a couple of women who I knew had been coaching for many years… I wasn’t sure about 30 years… but many, many, many years. These were amazing women leaders and role models. Both of them were ruled out.

One had spent some of her time coaching in another country and so she was DQ’d by the committee.  The other had done her work volunteering as a school coach while also being employed at the school, thus failing to meet the criteria of a volunteer coach. I argued that her coaching took place outside of her employment hours… didn’t matter. Also a DQ.

I was irate. The committee members who developed the criteria had obviously failed to understand that to be inclusive, criteria should be developed around the principals of equity. They had not taken into consideration systemic obstacles that would prevent women from meeting their arbitrary criteria.

Why was this a problem? Well apart from it being unfair, the people at the table on that day failed to recognize the opportunity to acknowledge hard work, mentorship and role modelling by women. They failed to see that the women provided a service of equal value to the men being considered. And, they failed to recognize the crucial role that women like these play inspiring girls to get involved and stay involved in leadership capacities.

Know what the behaviour of this committee was perpetuating? Systemic discrimination. A big theoretical term that means it’s not fair, it’s insidious and it’s institutionalized. It’s all around us. And unless we work harder to do something about it, nothing will change.

Back to Bruce. Did you think he was one of the men at the table that day? Naw. Not Bruce. Never. Bruce and I are unlikely friends who met through girls’ basketball. Our daughters have played together for several years in a club in Surrey - a community where neither of us live but spend plenty of time. Bruce and I have sat side by side on back-breaking bleachers for many hours. Watching and loving girls’ basketball.

On the surface, you wouldn't think Bruce and I have much in common. You see, he's a football guy. He's also deeply involved with his faith. He camps. I am not religious, don’t find anything about football appealing and camping - forget it!. What brings Bruce and I together is our love of our daughters, of watching them play and for me… I love Bruce’s ongoing fight against systemic discrimination against women. Bruce isn't that guy who wears a t-shirt that says I'm an Ally ✊ . He's not that guy who's out at women’s marches. He's not a social media #equality guy.

What Bruce does is much more important. He notices and supports wherever he can. Not because he is performing an act of charity to help the cause of women’s equality. Because he truly values and appreciates women athletes for who they are inherently. Not for how close they are measuring up to men. Bruce could care less about the NBA. The other day I mentioned Klay breaking records for shooting three pointers. He had no idea who I was talking about. Bruce follows NCAA Women's Basketball. He finds it more interesting. He travels to WNBA games with his daughter not to expose her to mentors and women's leadership… well he does that… but he also goes because he truly appreciates the athleticism and competition that’s in front of him. We all need to be a little more like Bruce. This is the stuff of breaking down systemic discrimination.

According to the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) there is a huge gap in participation.

Only 2% of girls aged 12 – 17 are getting enough physical activity

Only 1/10 of high school girls enrol in optional physical education classes

Only 39% of registered national sport competitors are female

Only 38% of registered national sport recreational members are female

Only 19% of Canadian women participate in sport

These stats suck!

But I’m happy to say I’ve met many amazing women and men like Bruce who are pushing back. Women and men who are working their butts off to mentor and encourage girls and women to participate in sport. In fact, not to just participate but to be leaders. Women and men who are fighting for parity in compensation at the professional level for athletes and coaches.

I’ll bet you’ve met them too. In fact, if you are reading this blog there is a high probability that you are one of them.

Back to Bruce again. This picture was taken last weekend as we sat together watching his daughter compete in the Provincial High School Girls Championship final in front of a sell out crowd. During the game, Bruce leaned over to me and said:

I love it that the officials in this game are women.

I looked at him and said something like oh yeah! but honestly, I hadn’t even noticed. He just smiled. Of course, he noticed. That’s the kind of guy he is and the kind of person we all need to strive to be. When something is working and goes against the grain of systemic injustice let’s notice and celebrate it.

Thank you to you all for what you do… as a mother, daughter, sister, woman, thank you and Happy International Women’s Day. 

Nadia Kyba2 Comments