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Sport by nature is structured activity. As such, it is relatively easy to obtain and analyze gender data and to compare females and males in terms of numbers (clubs/teams, participants, coaches/leaders, Board members etc.).

Recreation by nature is generally unstructured non-organized engagement that can take place anywhere and at any time. Recreation encompasses a broad range of pursuits engaged in during free time including sport and physical as well as outdoor pursuits, cultural activities, and a myriad of hobbies. Participation in recreation depends upon two basic factors: opportunity and access.

As a field, we generally put most of our attention on opportunity when access is often a far greater barrier.

Opportunity has to do with infrastructure and programs…are there arenas, trails, studios…teams, clubs, and art classes? Access has to do with one’s ability to actually take advantage of the opportunities that do exist. This depends upon a myriad of factors such as skill, knowledge, money, transportation, clothing, partners, self-esteem, self-efficacy, identity, sense of entitlement, stereotypes, and social role constraints to name but a few.

The literature discusses 3 types of constraints that limit or prevent access to recreation. Intrapersonal are those that exist within, such as identity and self-efficacy; Interpersonal deal with our relationship with others, such as no one to participate with and the opinions of loved ones; whereas Structural focus on lack or equipment or having insufficient money.

For females, the nature of gender issues very much relates to age and phase of the lifecycle.  For young girls, there may be few differences from boys, although stereotypes seem to kick in at a very young age when children become inundated with gender messaging. Once girls become adolescents and reach puberty much changes for them. They become very aware of their female identity and being attractive to boys and popular with peers become dominant decision-making factors relative to recreation.

Research clearly shows that women face distinctive constraints making access even less possible for them than for men, children, and the older population. For example, one of the greatest barriers to participation in recreation for many women, especially those caring for others such as children living at home or aging parents, is a lack of blocks of free unobligated time. Their recreation is therefore frequently confined to brief periods which limits participation options, thus making the benefits that accrue through recreation and sport difficult to achieve.

From a recreation perspective, gender equity in terms of opportunities, is only one significant challenge for women; personal access is another. Although certain challenges are systemic within society, innovative means have been found to address them, but it takes a clear vision and strong dedication to do so.

I believe that this is now, and finally possible, for the women of Nova Scotia through initiatives of Women Active.


Brenda Robertson retired three years ago after having spent 4 decades working in the sport and recreation field within Nova Scotia. As a practitioner she worked as a sport development coordinator, National Park youth camp director, Municipal Recreation coordinator, and consultant. She then worked within academe for 30 years as a professor and Director of the Recreation Resource Centre of Nova Scotia. Her primary areas of interest are and continue to be leisure behaviour, leisure education/literacy, and marginalized populations.
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