By Claire Ottaviano
WOMEN-only swimming sessions at public aquatic centres have the potential to drastically change the lives of a large section of the community say City of Swan women.
Last month Swan Council voted 12/2 to ask the City for a report on the creation of women’s wellness sessions at all leisure centres.
Sessions would be open to females of all ages and may include swimming education and aquatic recreation, gym sessions, socialisation and relaxation opportunities as well as options for sessions during and outside of normal operating hours.
Sister Project chief executive Tracey Cave addressed the council on behalf of community members who were currently not able to access local swimming pools or leisure centres.
“Thirty per cent of [City of Swan’s] local population were born overseas and currently speak a language other than English at home,” she said.
“Let’s then assume about half of those born overseas are female –some of them are from cultures where female modesty is something that is heavily regulated through the way they dress and what they can and can’t do.”
She said while many would likely assume the majority of those women came from a Muslim background, Christian and Buddhist women also believed in a certain manner of dress in the presence of men.
“Let’s also talk about our non-migrant community members,” she said.
“As a family and domestic violence survivor, I remember the whole body anxiety and fear of being in any public space and bumping into or being spotted by my ex-husband.
“Being able to exercise in an open public area that a husband is entitled to enter, was and is definitely something that I, amongst many other women were not able to do.”
Other women affected by body image issues, especially young girls, would also greatly benefit from women only sessions.
If Swan was to approve the sessions it would not be the first City in the Perth metro to do so.
City of Cannington currently runs a very successful women’s wellness program, including swimming lessons on Sunday evenings during term 1 and term 4 of the school year.
Swimming lessons for term 1 this year, starting in February, are already fully booked but open swimming does not require a booking.
Ellenbrook’s Nada Salman, who has travelled to Cannington for the sessions, was supportive of a similar program locally.
“Some ladies have religious and privacy reasons but there are other reasons and we need to get this right because some of the women have surgery or birth marks on their bodies so they don’t want men to see them because they feel embarrassed or shy,” she said.
“We need for them [the City of Swan] to believe our rights and what we need, not just for religious reasons but for women who aren’t comfortable with their bodies or something on their bodies.”
While many consider being able to swim in Australia a right, Zahra Ibrheem said she can only sit on the sidelines and watch as her children play in the water.
“It would be a dream for me,” she said.
“I would like to learn how to swim, just like my kids.
“Even if it’s two hours a week we would be so happy, we aren’t asking so much, just for a little privacy and respect.”