All over the world, sport is a tool for social integration. Many initiatives promote gender equality, and there is no shortage of female athletes demanding equal pay with male athletes as greater visibility.
For ten years, Linkoping has been exploiting sport’s popularity to promote women’s rights. The Swedish city will host a new edition of the SM-veckan multi-sports event whose goal is to be the most gender-equal one of this type ever. The week-long national championship will take place from 28 June to 3 July.
Organised by the Swedish Sports Confederation and Swedish Television (SVT), SM-veckan is hosted by different Swedish municipalities. The event comprises various disciplines, from ball sports to gymnastics, swimming and martial arts. For each of these categories, respective national champions will be selected.
Why gender equality?
“Gender stereotypes have long prevented both men and women from developing skills and exploring different sports,” Åsa Åbom, the Sustainability Adviser at the Municipality of Linkoping explained. “The municipality, as well as many other actors, has both responsibility and opportunity to change those norms,” she added.
Linkoping takes the issue seriously and actively engages in approaching gender equality in leisure and sports activities, Anders Thorén, Project Leader at SM-veckan says. He also noted that the city was the first in Sweden to introduce equal sponsorship and even built a football arena for the 2013 UEFA Women’s Championship.
“To include gender equality as one of the main goals at SM-veckan was, therefore, a logical outcome for us,” he said.
The preparations are very much in the process, and various measures are being planned to achieve equality about different aspects of SM-veckan.
Firstly, the event itself has to be equally accessible for all individuals. Possible changes include adjusting seats in the public gallery to ensure that every visitor can enjoy an unhindered view of what is happening, regardless of restricted mobility or body height. Enforcing this is especially important since on average women are shorter than men.
The sport show will also be ‘period friendly’: free sanitary products will be available on toilets used by athletes and visitors of the event.
Women face several challenges due to ‘period poverty’, or the lack of means to access sanitary products. This is particularly true in poorer countries, but even in Sweden women can face difficulties.
The city will also promote equality through education thanks to volunteers, workers and city administration staff who will be providing information on the topic.
Additionally, Linkoping plans to prompt trainees to advocate gender equality by encouraging people to try out disciplines generally regarded as sports for the other sex. Stereotypes linking gender to specific sports (or even dances and ballet) are hard to overcome. The city is therefore seeking to break barriers and to encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zones.
Besides collaborating with Swedish Television, the municipality will also try to initiate a cooperation with local media to devote an equal amount of screen time to both women’s and men’s sports.
By implementing these measures at SM-veckan, Linkoping is determined to contribute to creating an equal and inclusive sports environment where gender is not considered a barrier nor an exclusion tool.