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Gender Equal Leisure

Girls and women enjoy cultural activities and non-competitive sports. Boys and men like to play musical instruments and engage in competitive sports. Boys and men require more resources while girls and women require less. Yet, non-Swedish girls and women consume less resources than any other group.

Stereotypes? No, this is a fair representation of reality according to Anna Klerby and Ingrid Osaka’s report on culture and leisure in Botkyrka outside Stockholm. The head of Botkyrka’s department of culture and leisure, Mattias Gökinan, has read the report.

‘Those of us who have worked with this problem for many years are not really surprised. But it is a great report. It helps illuminate what we know and are trying to change. We would like to earmark money for girls and team up with the clubs and organisations to focus on the gender perspective.’

The City of Botkyrka has actively promoted the gender perspective for many years. Still, says the report, 36 per cent of the funding that the city allocates to non-profit clubs and organisations goes to boys under age 20 while the girls get 25 per cent.

What are the reasons behind these even numbers? What is the background?

Competition or Public Health

Since 2009 the department of culture and leisure monitors the city’s allocation of funding via key indicators in its operational plan.

By tradition, municipal budgets are designed to primarily support clubs and competitive sports. Since sports clubs are clearly male dominated and comprise 40 per cent of all recipients of municipal funding, males in the below-20 age group end up receiving the largest share of the total funding.

The Swedish Sports Confederation has established that boys tend to exercise and play sports either a lot or not at all. This may be an expression of the masculinity expectations that boys face. Girls are subject to the opposite type of expectations and are therefore more modest in their exercise habits, according to the statistics.

‘This may be an expression of the masculinity expectations that boys face.’

Yet the status of women’s exercise and sports is gradually increasing.

That is a tremendous success for gender equality, according to the report. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go before the salary of the world’s highest paid female football player, Marta da Silva from Umeå, Sweden, (1.2 million SEK/year) measures up to the salary of her male counterpart, Lionel Messi from Barcelona (112 million SEK/year)!

Leisure in Transition

Physical exercise and sports is in a process of change. In the 1990s, the demand for non-competitive and health-promoting alternatives increased. According to the Swedish Sports Confederation, people’s involvement in organised sports decreased in the early 2000s, whereas jogging and gym memberships grew in popularity – activities that are common among females in particular.

Nevertheless, the municipalities are still giving these activities less support than club sports.

‘Clear objectives have been defined, but the funding issue is still being worked on.’

The government report on sports from 2008 (SOU 2008:59) pointed to the need to expand the promotion of sport and physical activity to cover more non-competitive activities. In the end, the main benefit of promoting physical activity in a broad perspective will be improved public health, the report proclaimed.

The City of Botkyrka is also making plans to more actively promote spontaneous physical activity. Clear objectives have been defined, but the funding issue is still being worked on.

Traditional Club Activities

Participation in organised sports is also largely linked to cultural background. Botkyrka is a municipality with a relatively large share of inhabitants with non-Swedish backgrounds, and girls in immigrant-dense areas are much less likely to participate than the country average.

In 1998, 50 per cent of all girls in Stockholm were members of a sports club. In the city’s southern suburbs, which include Botkyrka, the figure was 20 per cent.

The different parts of Botkyrka show large differences in children’s and adolescents’ participation in club activities. In the northern part, which is very immigrant-dense, one in four children and adolescents (both girls and boys) is involved in club activities; in the southern part, the number is one in two.

In the spring of 2010, Botkyrka accepted the challenge to find out which activities attract girls in particular to leisure activities not linked to traditional club activities.

‘Girls-only Evenings’ and Unpaid Services

Klerby and Osika’s study points to clear gender patterns in children’s and adolescents’ activities and indicates that the choice of musical instrument and theatre and dance courses follows the traditional notions of what is feminine and masculine.

Community youth centres are used mostly by boys (70 per cent). Girls generally have a higher representation in the city’s cultural courses in for example art, music and theatre. In order to improve the situation from a gender perspective, several youth centres are actively targeting girls, for example by arranging special girls-only evenings.

‘In order to improve the situation from a gender perspective, several youth centres are actively targeting girls, for example by arranging special girls-only evenings.’

The libraries, however, are strongly female-dominated. More than 70 per cent of all books lent are borrowed by girls and women. Men instead tend to use the libraries to read magazines and newspapers and use the Internet. Thus, a larger share of the spending on libraries goes to girls and women. However, the statistics may not tell the whole story, since women often borrow books for their children and spouses (an example of the unpaid services in society performed by significantly more women than men).

Burden or Challenge

The report includes a number of reflections. The authors oppose the view that municipal funding creates employment opportunities for primarily women, and that this burdens the public finances.

They stress that the city’s funding of new facilities creates employment opportunities in male-dominated sectors as well, often in the private domain. However, these expenses look like investments in the municipal budget, in contrast to for example eldercare salaries.

The report also addresses an inherent challenge in promoting gender equality. It is important to understand that there is more than one problem involved: How can we encourage girls to take part in so-called boys’ activities? How can we encourage boys to take part in so-called girls’ activities?

‘The problem has a special dimension in that club activities are voluntary,’ says the head of Botkyrka’s department of culture and leisure, Mattias Gökinan. ‘We can for example target the municipal funding, but in the end the clubs themselves have to present ideas on how to create a climate that’s attractive to girls.’

According to Klerby and Osika, there are two challenges involved: to break the subordination and to break the superordination.

Taken together, this is the primary task of gender mainstreaming.

Lisa Gålmark
Source: The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions
Edited: 24 Oct 2016
Published: 13 Feb 2014
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