Community Clubs for a Community Cause

For many people in the Loddon Mallee region, sporting clubs are more than just a place for physical fitness, they’re also a place of connection and comraderie.

This is something James Wilson knows well, having grown up around sporting clubs. Now the Sport and Recreation Gender Equity Officer at Mildura Rural City Council (MRCC), James recognises the clubs give him a ‘sense of community, a sense of place, and a sense of belonging,’ acting as a second family for him and many of his teammates.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the community, particularly women, girls, and gender diverse people, have always felt as welcome. This means many are missing out on the social benefits that can come with participating in community sport, something that clubs throughout the Mildura region are motivated to change.

Does everyone feel respected, safe, equal, and included at your club?

This is what members at football-netball, soccer and cricket clubs throughout Mildura have been asking themselves.

In partnership with MRCC and Women’s Health Loddon Mallee, 7 clubs in Mildura have come on board to participate in the pilot round of a project seeking to achieve equality, inclusion, and respect for all; a fundamental strategy linked to the broader goal of preventing violence against women.

Each club has formed an Action Group who have dedicated their time to learning more about gender equality and the various barriers and challenges that women, girls and gender diverse people face when it comes to community support. Clubs have particularly focused on increasing their knowledge of intersectionality; learning about how inequality and discrimination are experienced in multiple and overlapping ways, and how they are linked to different elements of a person’s identity.

So far, Action Groups have undertaken a gender equality audit of their clubs, looking at how they fare when it comes to supporting equality and inclusion in the following areas:

  • leadership and decision making
  • policies and processes
  • club culture and participation
  • club facilities

They have also taken steps to listen to their member’s voices, conducting an in-depth survey aimed at giving members the opportunity to share their experiences, opinions and desires related to their club. 

Currently, clubs are developing Gender Equality & Inclusion Action Plans which will be rolled out over the next 1-2 years with the support of the Council, a process that will help them to take the necessary steps to achieve such important social change.

Project design has been guided by the Victorian Government’s Guidelines for Preventing Violence Against Women: Taking Action through Community Sport and puts a strong emphasis on making women, girls and gender diverse people feel safe, comfortable and included in sport settings. It also on challenges gender stereotypes, develops the skills to call out discrimination, and builds healthy and respectful attitudes and behaviours amongst men and boys in the club environment.

Although only in the early stages, the project has already helped clubs to identify actions they can take immediately to help ensure women and girls in their clubs are feel valued and included. For example, one local football-netball club has retrospectively awarded Life Membership to all netball players who have played over 200 games for the club, something that was previously only done for football players. Another football-netball club has begun running whole-of-club warm up sessions, aiming to develop stronger connection and friendships between women and men at the club. This was a need identified by club members, to make the club feel more inclusive and united.

As the project grows and develops, with the Council expecting to reach 28 clubs over a 2-year period, project officer James Wilson is hoping to foster a culture of respect throughout the region, and make sure that increasingly more people in the Mildura community feel as welcome, safe, and happy participating in community sports as he does.