By Claire Ottaviano
A MOTION to consider introducing female-only sessions at City of Swan leisure centres to cater for people with cultural and personal sensitivities was shut down by seven of the 12 councillors present at last week’s council meeting.
Mayor Kevin Bailey said his motion was prompted by a conversation with a local Arabic ladies group about the construction of the new Ellenbrook pool and possible use constraints within their community.
“Our leisure centres are currently open to anyone who wishes to use them at any given time,” he said.
“However there are some cultural sensitivities here which exclude some of our population.
“What I am simply asking the chief executive to do is to prepare a report that allows for a time during the week where those in our population, be it religious or otherwise, have an opportunity to use our aquatic centres free of the inhibitions they may have.”
The motion was seconded by Cr Andrew Kiely who said a report would be a positive step in providing for the needs of the community and was supported by Crs Patty Jones, Cate McCullough and Rashelle Predovnik.
Those opposed argued over the ambiguity of the definition of ‘sessions’ and whether a session would be a whole day or a few hours and who they would accommodate.
“My worry about the report is that it’s not descriptive enough to provide commentary into the report such as, the Mayor in his motion indicated a day, but the seconder indicated an hour or two hours,” Cr Mel Congerton said.
“Who is going to be the driver of the report to decide what type of hours or days or which sections of the leisure centre are going to be taken into consideration.
“Another issue is the leisure centre’s loss of activities to allow for a limited number to utilise the facility.”
Cr Jennifer Catalano went as far as asking if there would also be ‘men only’ sessions considered in the report.
Cr Bryce Parry said all ratepayers, be they male, female, junior, senior or with cultural sensitivities, should be considered equally.
“We have other people we need to consider, such as in the Ballajura Aquatic Centre where the majority of people that use that facility are young children.
“Should we cut out those sessions which are a large revenue raiser so we can have women’s only sessions?
“It’s important to remember the principal matter is, the City of Swan has a higher duty of care to ensure egalitarianism as well.
“The City needs to make sure everyone is treated equally, whether you’re man, woman or child every person needs to be treated the same.”
Cr Tanya Richardson asked if the sessions would accommodate transgender and transexual members of the community, to which staff replied they would be considered in the definition of ‘women’, should a report be approved.
Three of the councillors against made mention of the need to be ‘politically correct’ with Cr Charlie Zannino saying the Council would be at risk of criticism from the wider community by catering to the minority.
“In today’s day and age we are all aware of sensitivities with regard to equality, whether it be at work, education or sports,” he said.
“Everyone needs to be aware of their surroundings and be social, politically and culturally correct at all times, if you don’t you’re leaving yourself open for criticism.
“There are already female only centres that cater for people that fit within that group that don’t like to be in communal centres.
“As a council we need to be aware of leaving ourselves open to being biased and criticised because at the end of the day, the report is to identify or separate males and females whether it be culturally or socially and I think that’s dangerous.”
In response, Cr Cate McCullough said swimming was a very specific and sensitive issue women’s only sessions could support.
“Our leisure centres are open for everyone, but they’re not open to these women because what they believe limits them and restricts them,” she said.
“Yes it’s a minority of our population, but a minority not to be ignored.”
In summing up, Mayor Bailey said 30 per cent of the City’s population was born overseas, with half of those female.
“We regularly make statements like we respect the freedom and dignity of other people and that we believe in equal opportunity regardless of race, religious and ethnic background,” he said.
“I ask you to look at how we can accommodate all of our people – how we structure our programs and roster our staff.
“I’m asking how we can consider everyone in our community, whether it be those with cultural, religious or gender beliefs.”
The motion was lost 7/5 with Crs Richardson, Catalano, Zannino, Parry, Congerton, John McNamara and Rod Henderson against.