Scottish Women & Girls in Sport: Cara Shearer
6th October 2023
LEAP Sports co vice-chair reflects on Scottish Women & Girls in Sport Week
With an incredible summer of sport coming to a close and one of my favourite times of year approaching (no, not Christmas- although only 11 Mondays to go), it is a real privilege to spend some time to reflect on the progress of women and girls sport across the UK and internationally.
Since working within the Scottish sporting system, Scottish Women & Girls in Sport week has become one of my favourite celebrations. A week where doom scrolling is transformed, as my social media platforms explode with inspiring stories of local champions, tenacious athletes, and fierce competitors- embodying the mantra of #SheCanSheWill.
As an ageing millennial who grew up in the Nokia 3210 era, I often wonder how different my story would be if I had been surrounded at an earlier age by these diverse, strong and empowered female role models- perhaps, 15 year-old me would have felt slightly less alone and ashamed of the overwhelming urge to slide tackle, header muddy footballs and generally wreck every pair of trainers I owned. Something that society once deemed as ‘unladylike’ is now being celebrated and it fills me with great pride and satisfaction to see a whole generation of young people growing up with this- a new normal.
It is well known and empirically proven, that females and members of the LGBTQI+ community are underrepresented within the Scottish sporting system- due to a variety of societal, inter-personal and environmental factors. A recent project lead by LEAP Sports Scotland aimed to explore in detail the barriers facing women with diverse sexual backgrounds, striving to understand in greater depth the experiences of LGBTQI+ women in sport.
As part of an interactive residential weekend in sunny Peebles, I had the pleasure of being part of these poignant and compelling discussions, expertly facilitated by the LEAP staff team. Interestingly, a common theme that continued to arise, was the need for safe spaces in sport for women and girls, while understanding that this might look different for each participant. Further, it was discussed that too often it is male coaches and organisers who are the gatekeepers to these spaces and while often striving to be allies, they may not always relate or fully understand the experiences of women in sport- particularly those from the LGBTQI+ community.
Many personal experiences of this came to mind throughout the conversations; when my wife returned to football as a new mum and was breastfeeding our son at halftime (babies wait for no-one) our well-intentioned coach benched her for the second half ‘to rest’, despite an incredible first half performance. Or after lockdown as sport was once again permitted but only outdoors, a number of team managers insisting that female training sessions could go ahead without access to toilet facilities- oblivious to the specific needs of the group that they were working so hard to support.
LEAP’s impactful project supports the calls for diverse female participants in sport to be celebrated but also the need for a more diverse network of female coaches, team managers, event organisers and officials- the list is endless, to not only participate but influence aspects of the sporting environment, ensuring that safe and inclusive spaces are established and maintained for all.
While we can and should celebrate the progress of the female movement in sport, it is imperative to use campaigns such as Women and Girls in Sport week to consider not only how far we have come but how far we still have to go. While this week continues to be my favourite time of the year and I will lose myself in the stories shared, I hope that in my lifetime there will not be a need for the campaign as we will see women and girls from all walks of life, being included and thriving in the sporting sector- every week.
Cara is LEAP Sports co vice-chair as well as working as a Partnership Manager at sportscotland and a trustee at Scottish Women in Sport.