Ausnew Home Care | From nuns to mums, weekend warriors to world champions, fitness fanatics to fanatical fans — women in sport want wider coverage

From nuns to mums, weekend warriors to world champions, fitness fanatics to fanatical fans — women in sport want wider coverage

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Four nuns are playing football on a synthetic pitch, on a rooftop in Rome. 

Dressed in habits, they're having a fun kickaround, playing like nobody's watching (or covertly filming from afar).

On a tight angle, one nun slots in a neat right-footer, and celebrates with her arms raised.

Later, another nun loses a shoe when she kicks the ball, but like a true competitor it doesn't stop her from pushing on.

The video quickly spread around the world, celebrating a group of women we don't normally see engaging in sport and physical activity. 

But for Rana Hussain, it wasn't a novelty at all — it made her feel seen.

A woman wearing a hijab looks at the camera and smiles. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Rana Hussain has previously worked for Cricket Australia and Richmond Football Club in diversity and inclusion roles.(Supplied: Megan Brewer)

"That image gets me up off the couch more than anything else, images of women that I can relate to," the diversity and inclusion leader and member of the Outer Sanctum podcast said.

"And, for me, a hijab-wearing woman, footage of covered nuns playing sport is so relatable.

"That's how I play sport. That's how I go to the gym. I wear loose fitting clothes. I cover my hair and, to see them do it, makes me feel like I can do it too."

For Hussain, and so many women like her, seeing themselves reflected is something they're desperate to see. 

'White women celebrating and smiling'

So, when we look at women in sport, who are we seeing?

Yes, there are the powerhouse world-beaters such as Sam Kerr, Ash Barty and the Australian women's cricket team who have become absolute fixtures on our sporting scene. 

Australia's women's cricket team celebrate winning the World Cup.
The Australian women's cricket team currently holds the T20 and ODI World Cups.(Getty Images: Hannah Peters)

But what happens when we dig a little deeper?

Getty Images has one of the world's largest creative and editorial picture databases, and it has gathered what it calls "visual GPS data" around women in sport.

Using internal search data, insights from visual experts, and market research, it has uncovered the current state of play when it comes to the visual representation of women in sport, and what audiences want.

It has found there is significant coverage of sportswomen around major events such as the Olympics, but it dramatically drops to 7 per cent visibility in the media outside of these times.

An Australian female tennis player hits a forehand.
Ash Barty is one of the most recognisable figures in Australian sport.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

And it's worse for those from diverse and under-represented backgrounds.

Kate Rourke is the head of creative insights, Asia Pacific at Getty Images and iStock. 

She says that Getty's customers, including media outlets, advertisers and brands, use less than 1 per cent of people with a disability in their visuals.

LGBT+ women and non-binary people also represent less than 1 per cent, and less than 4 per cent are people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

A female boxer wearing a headscarf is in the boxing ring, bare hands in front of her face.
Women from culturally diverse backgrounds — such as Australian featherweight champion boxer Tina Rahimi — are under-represented in sports media and advertising.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

"We are predominantly seeing Gen Z being visualised in sport, 95 per cent have slim bodies, and then a further 70 per cent are of white ethnicity," Ms Rourke said.

An older woman is running in the forest, smiling.
Older women engaging in sport and physical activity don't receive nearly as much attention in mainstream media and advertising.(Getty Images)

A Griffith University study looking at the media representations of women at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games found outlets promoted images of "white women celebrating and smiling", and "whiteness and normative femininity were presented as 'natural' and 'neutral'."

It also found that "there was a recurrent representation of successful sportswomen as predominantly able-bodied, young, white, and conforming mostly to traditional understandings of femininity (i.e., smiling, heterosexual, in passive poses, wearing makeup and jewellery)."

The Australian women's relay team holds their gold medals on the podium
A Griffith University study found there were narrow representations of sportswomen in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.(AAP: Darren England)

That resonates with Hussain.

"I feel like women in sport in Australia is still very much a particular group of women, and it's just not reflective of how many of us do love sport and play sport," she said.

"And I think part of that is just because, naturally, our focus is on the elite games, and the people [who] are making it through to elite sport aren't yet representative of our population."

Ali Tucker-Munro can also relate.

She's a proud Kamilaroi woman, and the head coach of the GWS Giants Netball Academy.

Netball coach Ali Tucker-Munro stands and smiles.
Ali Tucker-Munro is a former elite netballer, and now a high performance coach, who wants to see more First Nations sportswomen in the spotlight.(Supplied: Netball NSW)

"I think we've got to really be playing a part in the media of breaking down this stereotype of what an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person looks like in this country," she said.

"Our cultural identity is really complex for a range of reasons. [It's] obviously been influenced by past government policies around assimilation.

A row of netballers, dressed in uniform, stand arm in arm, while another row of players kneels in front of them.
Ali Tucker-Munro recently coached the Netball NSW First Nations All-Stars in a curtain raiser to the Super Netball First Nations round.(Supplied: Netball NSW)

"I heard a story of a player being questioned about her cultural identity, because of the colour of her skin, like, 'You can't have experienced racism'."

"Always having one player interviewed all the time, because of the colour of their skin, it shouldn't diminish or devalue another person's experience as well.

"When we talk about interviewing and portraying First Nations female athletes, [it's about] giving that broad breadth. So what role can media and profiling our First Nations women play in helping people educate and inform people around that?"

Paralympian Eliza Stankovic-Mowle says it's essential to showcase people from all backgrounds, including people with disability.

"If it's not there, and you can't see it, it doesn't exist, does it?," she noted.

A woman in a wheelchair is smiling, while playing wheelchair rugby.
Eliza Stankovic-Mowle is a Paralympic wheelchair racer, and has recently started playing wheelchair rugby.(Supplied: Wheelchair Sports NSW-ACT/Karen Watson)

"So, the more we see it, the more it becomes mainstream, then the more we all just accept it, and it's seen for its beauty.

"[For] young people, seeing people with disability in all walks of life, doing incredible things, it really just gives them the hope and the dream that they can be whatever they choose to be.

"Because, quite often, unfortunately, people with disabilities are still told that they can't. And, unless they see it, they believe they can't."

Ms Rourke also says that, while media outlets and advertisers do want to be more inclusive, there are underlying unconscious biases.

"We need to become much more aware of what those biases are, so that, when we are selecting content, or when we are going to be showing different female athletes, we are making sure that we are checking in on those biases," she said.

What do women want?

It's pretty simple: Women want to see people like them. 

Ms Rourke says their research showed women mainly encountered bias due to body shape, age, gender and ethnicity.

"They want to see females of different body types, engaging in sport in some way," she said.

A woman is smiling while dancing in a dance studio.
Women want to see positive portrayals of people with different body types. (Getty Images)

"We found with the image testing that we did, that women in Australia and New Zealand were twice more likely to respond to all different body types, they were likely to choose more different ethnic diversity from the visuals, and very much that social bonding, friendship groups engaging in sport is what they responded to.

"But, interestingly, the other thing they wanted to see was all ages engaging in sports. And then they also wanted to see all genders engaging in sports.

A group of women in a gym class stand on mats, and are doing lunges.
Women want to see themselves reflected.(Getty Images)

"And, if we want to encourage more participation, we want to encourage much more inclusion, then the way forward is to do that in terms of including this much more broadly."

Ms Rourke says one of the key parts of the research was breaking stereotypes around people with disability.

"One of the biases that we often see is this idea of either trying to show them very heroically, almost trying to overcome the disability that they might have," she said. 

"When, in fact, all of our research is showing that they just want to be seen in every day [situations]. It is not about overcoming a disability. They live with disability."

Wheelchair racer Eliza Ault Connell smiles while sitting in her wheelchair.
Eliza Stankovic-Mowle wants to be seen as a multi-dimensional person. (ABC News: Pat Galloway)

"I'm not just one thing. I'm so many different things. And that's what makes me proud to be me," Stankovic-Mowle said.

"So, I would like to think that I'm seen by the media as a woman, firstly, with a disability, but who is a mother, who is a sportsperson, who also has a career. And, first and foremost, who is happy, and I prioritise my physical and mental health.

"Showing that a life with a disability is just as incredible as anyone else's life, if not more incredible, because sometimes we get so many more opportunities and experiences that perhaps people without a disability don't have."

Non-binary Paralympian Robyn Lambird agrees media and advertisers can play a huge role in dismantling stereotypes and creating a more inclusive society.

It's believed Lambird was the first adult with a visible disability to model in a national advertising campaign for a major Australian retailer, when they featured in a campaign for Target in 2016.

And they were also the first 'out' non-binary athlete to win a Paralympic medal.

"In terms of marketing, and things like that, it's so subconscious, and we absorb so much from that," Lambird said.

"We create a picture of what our world looks like and the people involved in it. So, I think, disabled people need to be included in that.

"I don't think, as a brand, you can say that you're being diverse or inclusive if you aren't including people with disabilities.

"It's great to see how far we've come — in terms of body image and celebrating different body shapes and sizes — and I think it's just the next step."

Telling community stories

And it's not just about celebrating those athletes who make it to the top — as they are still a very select few.

"If we only focus on elite sport, we will then just keep replicating the same kind of structures and power dynamics that do exclude a whole bunch of people," Hussain said.

"So, hand in hand with more coverage of women's elite sport, I want representation and visibility of community sport.

"And it's hard, because that's not always the sexy story or the interesting story that will necessarily get eyeballs.

A group of women gather in front of a soccer goal.
Players from Bayside Futsal Women, which is a free, community-based social competition that attracts a wide range of women.(Supplied: Aish Ravi)

"But I think there's a way to do it, with real authenticity of telling everyday stories and up and comers. I think, as brands and as storytellers, if we represent the whole picture, we'll build the whole pie for everybody and slowly bring everyone along."

Tucker-Munro wants to see greater awareness of the challenges Indigenous women face in being able to play sport, and for them to receive as much support and investment as men.

"In First Nations culture, and I'm talking obviously from my own lived experiences, a lot of our girls have kinship, caring responsibilities," she said.

"And oftentimes, it's them that actually have to play second fiddle to the brother, or whoever else in the family's got rugby league on Sunday. There's almost this overlooking [of] female athlete opportunities.

A group of Indigenous women perform a 'war cry' ahead of a rugby league match.
The NRLW Indigenous All Stars are an important part of rugby league.(Getty Images: Ian Hitchcock)

"And it's not about diminishing or devaluing our amazing Aboriginal men who were playing really well in sport.

"But it's about how do we broaden the narrative to really capture the added complexity and challenges for our female athletes, particularly in regional and rural centres. That's the gap"

Lambird also wants greater awareness of athletes with a disability on a more consistent basis.

"It's not good enough to see disabled sports once every four years at the Paralympics. We need to be seeing it throughout the year so people can get to know these athletes and get to understand the games," they said.

"It's so important to see, not only sportspeople with a disability, but [also] people with a disability in all walks of life and what they can do," Stankovic-Mowle added.

Whether they're nuns or mums, weekend warriors or world champions, fitness fanatics or fanatical fans, women in sport no longer want to be sidelined — they're ready to see themselves in the spotlight, in all their different forms.


Source: ABC

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