In December, I attended a forum held by WABA about the gender gap in biking. Essentially, the goal was to bring together women cyclists and talk about why there is a gap and what could be done to close that gap. What I find interesting is that the gap between women and men bike riders is based on essentially 3 things:
- Involvement with children
- Perception from others
How many other gender gaps are based on these same three things? So why is it important to highlight them here?
It’s important because of the fact that it is not dissimilar to other gaps. This is an issues that comes up again and again in the environmental sector – women are not leaders because of lack of child care, women are not able to lead successfully, women aren’t leaders because it’s too hard to break through that ceiling. Recognizing the issues that face women and bicycling means acknowledging that these issues are at once true and false. True in that they are what tend to hold women back from biking to work and false because they are not eternal roadblocks.
These issues are able to be dealt with by bike activists and women’s outreach. Perhaps the hardest one to tackle is perception but this can be altered by engaging more women in biking. Just like the perception of women as leader can be altered by encouraging more women in leadership.
These issues are important for the environmental movement to address now. Without the strength of women in the movement we will be faced with a man-led movement that restricts women to certain spaces.
The forum I attended was led by a panel of women, put together by a woman, and attended overwhelmingly by women. It was not a women only space per se, yet it was an open forum to discuss women bike enthusiasts. It was a space that centered on what it is like to bike as a woman, spoken by women. For that reason, it was an enlightening and heartening experience. I have attended other events in the past that discuss women and the environment led by a panel of men. Women’s voices are not represented even though the discussion is about them. The reliability of women talking to women about issues facing local women is important.
Women only spaces or women focused spaces allow women a space to grow and support each other, especially in terms of how to address gender gaps. As I further explore the idea of women only spaces, I’m sure I will encounter more than one opinion on this subject, many differeing from my own. But the idea of discussing something facing women with just women, gives a better representation of that issue (and the many perspectives involved). Then we can move forward to inclusive spaces and discuss these issues with everyone.
This forum made me realize how much of a gender gap there is in biking and how important it is to bring those issues to light. Shane Farthing, executive director of WABA, opened the forum saying “we know this gap exists and we don’t want to see it grow any bigger.” How appropriate is that? Let’s addresses these gaps before they grow too big, and let’s make sure that women only spaces are present, and the voices of women are not silenced.