Physical activity is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. In most countries, however, men are more likely to be active than women.
Cultural values and traditions can influence levels of physical activity among women. There is often a lack of safe, affordable and appropriate programs and places where girls and women can be active.
Globally, inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death.
Exercise is a necessity for good health. It can prevent noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, depression, breast and colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. But it isn’t only about sports – the World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure”. This means that cycling to work or school, taking the stairs, and walking instead of taking the bus all count.
As stated in the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030, physical activity needs to be integrated into people’s everyday life. However, this can be challenging if cultural values don’t allow it.
In Pakistan, girls and women who cycle may experience resistance. In Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to cycle, but only on beaches and in parks and only while remaining close to their male guardian.
Women who perform sports often experience opposition based on cultural norms.
Based on a true story, the Indian movie Dangal tells the story of a father who opposes traditions and cultural values and raises and trains his two daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari to win India’s first international gold medal in female wrestling. This raises quite a few eyebrows in the community.
At first, the girls loathe the training and want to be like other girls, but when the sisters complain to a friend about their father and the tough training they have to endure she replies: “I wish God had given me such a father. When a girl is born here, the only thought is to teach her household work and get her married off at 14”. Geeta and Babita’s mother initially opposes the training. In one scene, she asks her husband “Who will marry our girls?”The father confidently replies, “I will make our girls so capable that boys will not choose them, they will choose boys”.
Of course, the story is not only about choosing a life partner. It’s about gaining confidence, physical and mental strength and allowing women to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.
When women are discouraged from being active, whether it’s walking, cycling or performing sports, their right to health is under attack.
So, what can we do to promote physical activity for women?
Emphasize the importance of physical activity for health. Physical activity is essential for good health and this should be stressed in the face of resistance.
Demand safe spaces for women. Sports and physical activity should be for all. In places where women don’t feel safe walking or cycling or when performing sports, advocacy is needed.
Encouragement is key. Just as Geeta and Babita’s father encouraged his daughters to train, we need to encourage our children and young people.
Be the change you want to see. To change cultural values and traditions we need to see women doing sports or being physically active. Don’t wait for an invitation. Women need to conquer the streets, whether on bikes or on foot just as we need to take our rightful place in the gym and in sports.
Health is a human right and physical activity plays a huge role in a healthy lifestyle.
How can physical activity be promoted for women in your community? Post your suggestions in the comment section!