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International Women’s Day: Physical Activity Equality for ALL


Blog written by Kinesiology graduate student and doctoral candidate Chelsey Thul, M.A.

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), which honors the economic, political and social achievements of women throughout the world.  According to the IWD website, “organizations, government and women’s groups around the world choose different themes each year to reflect global and local gender issues.” In the Tucker Center, our theme is physical activity equality for all; we hope for a day where all girls and women—no matter what ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or class—will have equal access and opportunities to participate in, and reap the many benefits of, physical activity.

One way we have worked to achieve this theme is through our research and outreach promoting physical activity opportunities among East African adolescent girls—a prevalent and growing immigrant population in the United States that up until recently have not had voice in the physical activity literature or programming. As a result, physical activity opportunities for this specific population are scarce. In 2008 in a study titled, “Reducing Physical Inactivity and Promoting Healthy: Living: From the Voices of East African Girls”, Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi (my adviser and Associate Director of the Tucker Center) and I asked these girls about their beliefs, needs, desires, and barriers related to physical activity, as well as their suggestions for future culturally relevant physical activity programming.

Overwhelmingly, we heard that East African adolescent girls want to be active in a variety of ways (i.e., swimming, dance, basketball), but that they face a multitude of personal (i.e., lack of time and low feelings of physical activity competence), social (i.e., lack of peer and parental support and culturally competent, caring coaches), environmental (i.e., lack of resources and opportunities), and cultural barriers (i.e., lack of female-only spaces where they can maintain their cultural belief of privacy and modesty, yet still be active) to do so.

The primary suggestion the girls offered for future physical activity programming was creating an inclusive all-female program that is run by culturally sensitive, committed coaches and is centered on the activities they want (rather than the traditional activities academics and programmers think they want). Our study is currently in press in the Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise journal.  Also, based on the girls’ suggestions, a two-day per week culturally relevant, all-female basketball league was developed by the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota in the East African community. We have continued to help the league organizers develop the program over the past 2 1/2 years. Indeed, we are driven to do our part to meet the theme of physical activity equality for all. What is your theme and how are you doing your part?

One Comment leave one →
  1. 03/24/2011 8:33 pm

    Great blog Chelsey! I work for Saskatchewan in motion, a physical activity iniciative in Canada. My work focuses on engaging the youth of our province and increasing physical activity opportuntities for children and youth.

    We know how important it is to give everyone an equal opportuninty to be physically active. It’s fantastic to find another blog concerned with increasing activity!

    Your research seems very interesting as well. One of our youth ambassadors for Saskatchewan in motion is originally from Somalia. We’ve spoken about the different cultural considerations that can be barriers to physical activity if opportunties like private, female only swim times weren’t avaialble for example.

    Interesting stuff. Thanks for the post.

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