Including Everyone: Promote Gender and Disability Equity in Your Recreational Athletic Programs

By Vinluan, Monica Hobbs; Lakowski, Terri | Parks & Recreation, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Including Everyone: Promote Gender and Disability Equity in Your Recreational Athletic Programs


Vinluan, Monica Hobbs, Lakowski, Terri, Parks & Recreation


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Providing equity in recreational athletic programs assures that everyone has an equal chance to participate and that no one is discriminated against for reasons such as gender, race, disability, age, religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation, social background or marital status. Equity tears down barriers that stand in the way of people who traditionally do not, or have not, taken part in sports or recreation programs.

A primary goal of gender and disability equity is to provide all individuals with the access and opportunity to take part in a full range of activities that will enable them to see their full potential. An equitable park and recreation department has systems and structures in place to prevent discrimination through language and images in publications and promotions that represent women and men and individuals of all abilities in a positive manner. Equitable departments should keep track of gender participation levels as well as participation levels of individuals with disabilities.

Increasing physical activity and encouraging healthy, active lifestyles will reduce the alarming rate of obesity in this country. We know that one in six children are obese and at risk for related health problems. One in three children are overweight. In addition, fewer than one in four children get 20 minutes of vigorous activity every day, but spend nearly six hours each day in front of a television or computer.

As stewards of our nation's places and spaces, park and recreation leaders play a critical role in providing healthy lifestyle opportunities and more livable communities for those they serve.

Sports and physical activity opportunities provide innumerable benefits to children, including greater academic success, better physical and psychological health, responsible social behaviors, and enhanced interpersonal skills. Promoting physical activity will reduce the rate of childhood obesity and will lead to improved academic performance, behavior and health, thereby reducing healthcare costs for chronic diseases and sedentary lifestyles.

We know that women and people with disabilities do not have equal access to physical activity and athletic participation opportunities, yet the risks and problems associated with obesity and the lack of physical activity are greater and more prevalent among girls, women and people with disabilities.

Gender Equity

The need to provide physical activity and athletic opportunities for girls is particularly important because one in six girls today are obese or overweight. Girls are significantly less likely than boys to participate in vigorous physical activity and sports teams; and they drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Despite advances in athletic opportunities for females since the passage of Title IX in 1972, discrimination still limits athletic opportunities for girls in community youth athletics.

These disparities extend beyond the classroom to park and recreation settings as well. The direct impact of Title IX on local park and recreation services and facilities is undocumented. However, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of parents, guardians or others responsible for children and youth want equal opportunities in education, training and recreation (including sports) for all girls and boys. The involvement of older siblings, relatives and friends involved in recreational or competitive sports and the exposure to active recreation and wellness messages reinforces the desire of children and adults to obtain gender equal opportunities in park and recreation programs and services.

NRPA advocates for the support Title IX and to enforce its provisions. We urge public park and recreation policymakers to provide facilities and services to achieve the statutory objective of Title IX: providing both female and male athletes with equitable opportunities to participate and access to quality services and treatment. …

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