I have been prompted to write this column after witnessing first-hand a significant hurdle faced by women participating in sport in Canberra.
It is not the lack of opportunity or pathways. No, it’s the lack of decent change rooms for women playing sport.
Most of the facilities were built at a time when male participation was completely dominant and it was reflected in the construction of facilities.
Most district sports grounds in Canberra were built with just two change rooms: one for the men’s home team and one for the visiting team.
If a women’s game is being played or a mixed team game, either as a curtain raiser or on an adjacent field but using the same change room facilities as the men, the women are often left searching for an area to change.
I have heard of women changing in their cars or toilet cubicles.
It is not just happening in Canberra. It is a significant issue across Australia and sports and governments are grappling to come to terms with this issue.
Rugby union, AFL, football, cricket and rugby league have experienced growth few would have anticipated 10 years ago.
The ACT Government has been working to rectify the problem, but it is sadly not keeping up with the growth in women playing sport.
Some existing facilities have been updated, while new constructions must have facilities for women – Gungahlin Enclosed, Canberra Stadium and the new Phillip Oval, for example.
In preparing this column, I spoke to one CEO of a sport in Canberra who wished to remain anonymous. The problem was described as “significant”, with the potential to become even worse in the future as the number of women playing sport continues to grow.
The concern from the CEO was that longer-term planning was needed from the ACT Government.
Some sports have been looking at putting modular dressing sheds next to the existing facilities.
To its credit, the ACT Government has included funding in the new agreements with the Brumbies and the Raiders for the provision of facilities for sportswomen.
The worry is that at the community and grassroots level, we are still a long way off.
In 2022 it should be a priority to ensure women have access to purpose-built changing facilities to provide a safe and secure environment for women playing sport.