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WOMEN IN THE OUTDOORS


“We hope the archive will help rebalance the narrative, which is primarily about men, by spotlighting women’s longstanding involvement in this activity. This will inspire women of all backgrounds and ages to see how climbing and the outdoors can bring physical and mental health benefits,” says Pinnacle Club member and Centenary co- ordinator Val Hennelly. “In 1921 Pinnacle Club members broke the mould, and we want to carry on doing that. Being able to access our heritage better will facilitate the sharing of our stories and enable us to inspire wider engagement of women in the outdoors, and in climbing in particular.” “How far the exclusion of women from the historical


record has impacted on contemporary women’s engagement with hills and mountains is something we want to explore during the course of the WITH network,” added Andrews.


But projects like these are just part of a much bigger and


longer-term shift in the balance of female representation in the outdoor community. Since the 1970s there has been a significant increase in the depiction of women in the outdoor media and celebration of female achievement is now on a par with that of men. Today there are enumerable talented female role-models and there has been a steady rise in the number of women in key positions (with recent examples in the British Mountaineering Council, Fell Runners Association and Rambler’s Association to name but a few). But despite much progress, the WITH project is responding to a gender- gap in participation that surprisingly still exists in mountain sports in the UK.


Even though the first female British Mountain Guide, Gwen Moffat, qualified as far back as 1950, there are still only 10 female BMGs nationally.


According to the most recent surveys of outdoor participation, women make up only 31.2% of participants in mountaineering/scrambling, 32.8 % in fell running and 41.3% in rock climbing/bouldering, but as much as 46.8% in ‘hill and mountain walking’. This data is from the Active Lives study, carried out by Sport England, which has surveyed 175,000 people annually across England to create a data- set which so far spans 2016-2018. Despite the gender- ratio for hillwalking appearing almost equal at first glance, another report, Getting Active Outdoor (Sport England 2015) suggests that men and women are actually accessing the outdoor environment rather differently. The survey reveals that the majority of women surveyed are seeking outdoor time for ‘emotional, exploratory and learning’ purposes (e.g. photography, dog-walking or bird-watching), while men far outnumber women in the more ‘sporting’ categories of outdoor users. Proxy-measures of participation show an altogether different balance, with only 26% of current


56 | CLIMB. WALK. JOIN.


BMC members and 13% of UKC/UKH users being female. The gender-gap is even more well-documented in outdoor leadership pathways, where less than 25% of outdoor instructors are female (and only 7% of MIA/MCI are women). “Across all NGBs there is a drop-off with women in instructional roles as you work up the qualification levels,” says Doug Cooper, Glenmore Lodge. Even though the first female British Mountain Guide (BMG), Gwen Moffat, qualified as far back as 1950, there are still only 10 female BMGs nationally.


But why does any discrepancy in gender balance still


exist? It cannot be due to any lack of opportunities. In today’s society there is no hill or mountain, course or event where a woman would not be welcome. But the removal of ‘barriers’ over the years has not de facto led to gender parity in the British hills. Clearly something more subtle is at work.


The Scottish National Centre held their first Women in Adventure Sport (WIAS) conference in 2016 to address exactly this question. “We invited experienced female outdoor instructors and participants to tackle the questions about enablers and barriers, to proactively tackle the gender- gap in both leadership and participation” says Cooper. “As a result of this work, we started delivering women-specific participation courses, actively employed more female directors and tutors of NGB courses, and now deliver the WIAS conference annually to explore, share ideas and support women in the outdoors.” Through this approach, some key areas have been identified where more can still be done to help increase women’s participation: • More role models • More representation of women in key roles • Mentoring • Female specific social support e.g. social media • Supportive learning/performance environments considering:


• Confidence & Competence • Community & Connection


• Women specific equipment • Images & Language to support/promote/celebrate women in outdoors


“Academic studies continue to highlight historical and


ongoing challenges faced by women in outdoor adventure, including mountain sports, which can involve gender socialisation, perceived confidence, family constraints and access to others with whom to adventure,” says Dr Emma Boocock, Co-Investigator and Lecturer in Sports Coaching at Northumbria University. In a 2020 survey of the Scottish Women’s Walking Group,


87% of women felt that ‘mental barriers’ held them back from hill-walking or ‘stopped them altogether’, with 60% of 175 respondents selecting multiple and identical perceived barriers. Of the most common, 45-49% were anxious about their fitness and worried about ‘holding others back’ in a group setting, while 34% felt restrained by low-confidence in their navigational ability. Guided trail running company Girls on Hills, who deliver women-only navigation courses, observed that many of their clients appeared to lacked confidence. “A large proportion of our ladies are self-conscious about learning to use a map and compass and have low confidence in their ability, but in reality, they are more than capable,” says Co-Founder, Nancy Kennedy.


Feedback from the popular Women’s Trad Festival


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