WE Cycle UK, a newly founded organisation working towards increased participation in women’s cycling will launch at this year’s National Women and Cycling Conference 2016, an event co-hosted by the group.
Reaching out to women across the cycling community, WE (WE = Women’s Equality) Cycle UK aims to make riding a bike a normal and inclusive choice of transport for every woman across the UK by bringing together community organisations, local authorities, academics, health practitioners, sustainable transport charities, volunteers and cycle related businesses to share effective policy experiences and galvanising ambitions of increasing the number of women riding bikes. WE Cycle UK is working towards a 50:50 modal share of people riding bikes by 2020.
WE Cycle UK said: “By establishing WE Cycle UK, we hope to engage more women into cycling through targeted work to redress the gender imbalance. Empowering women at all levels of the sector is essential to the continued growth and infrastructure develop of cycling”.
But why does women’s cycling matter?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a list of why increasing women’s participation in cycling, in particular, is so important. Please note, this list is not exhaustive, please feel free to add to….
We are All Kardashians
Women are the greatest influencers of all time; we always have been. It’s why female empowerment is so fundamentally important to the whole world, from politics to poverty. It was the late, great Christopher Hitchens that once said, “The cure for poverty has a name, in fact: it’s called the empowerment of women.”
Empower a woman, and you empower a family. And more. It’s the women of the world that make societal change and in 2016, we have more tools than ever to make that change. From blogging to social media, we are sharing our knowledge, communicating our experiences, we’re talking, we’re writing, we’re ‘doing’ like never before in our lifetime.
Cycling behaviour and the likelihood to cycle is affected by innumerable factors and pre-conceptions, including safety, the need to carry goods, limitations imposed by schedule or attire, distance, weather, or the need to combine errands and gender can affect how strongly such factors are weighed. With targeted focus to openly address these issues, as well as the motivation, attitudes, and preferences for travel relevant to our women, we have a tremendous opportunity to evoke change that can positively impact all components of society. Men, women, children, Kardashians.
Because Kardashians are making our Kids Sick
Okay, enough about the Kardashians. But seriously…
The pressure to be ‘perfect’ has never been so prevalent as it is in 2016 and our children – and young daughters in particular – are vulnerable to the pressures exacerbated by the social media flurry of impossible ideals to aspire to.
Body image is an issue of enormous concern, especially to parents and young people. It is a contributory factor in poor mental health, eating disorders, obesity, low aspirations and a range of risky behaviours including drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and unsafe sex, especially among women and girls.
According to recent statistics:
- 42%of girls and young women feel that the most negative part about being a female is the pressure to look attractive. (Girl Guiding UK, Girls Attitude Survey 2010)
- One in four 7 year old girls have tried to lose weight at least once. (Westerberg-Jacobson et al, European Eating Disorders Review 2011)
- 23% of girls aged 7-21 report not participating in exercise because they are unhappy with their body (GirlGuiding UK 2012)
- 48% of girls think getting sweaty from taking part in sports is unfeminine, (Attitudes Survey 4 Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation 2012)
The good news is that exercise – including cycling – is an excellent combatant against the alarming stats described and can empower young women to take care of their health and wellbeing.
Sport England’s Our Girls Active pilot – which aims to broaden girls’ participation in sports and physical activity – has produced some great results that support the theory:
A survey taken after the completion of the one-year scheme found that:
- Girls who are happy with the way their body looks more than doubled from 25% to 56%
- Girls feeling ‘very unhappy’ about the way their bodies look reduced by more than half from 37% to 16%
- The number of girls who look forward to their PE lessons has nearly doubled – from 38% to 71%
- The percentage of girls that felt positive about school rose from 24% to 78%.
As children mature into young adults, the pressures to be cool often surpass the need to have fun(!) and as a result, sport frequently takes a back seat. As a parent, encouraging cycling (as a mode of transport, for example) can be a valuable, indirect way to redress the balance to ensure that exercise and its accompanying physical and mental health benefits can be felt.
We need our women to inspire such practices from an early age to help encourage a generation of healthy well-rounded young men and women, who exercise because they love their bodies; not because they hate them.
The “Indicator Species”
Grating though the phrase may be I’m rather grateful to whoever concocted the “indicator species” buzz phrase (I believe it may well have been Linda Baker writing for the Scientific American), for it has managed to wedge itself into minds of many and that can only be a good thing. For those unfamiliar with the expression, it goes something like this:
“Women are the indicator species for demonstrating how cycle friendly a city is; a large number of women cyclists in an urban are indicates that the area has good, safe cycling infrastructure.”
For too long, men have made UK infrastructure design and policy without very much in the way of female influence or consideration. Consideration of gender issues when developing a cycling infrastructure is paramount if we are to create a transport system responsive to the worldwide challenges of increased population, reducing greenhouse emissions and fighting climate change without compromising on mobility. By raising the profile of women in cycling and cycling infrastructure, we bridge the gap between men and women, planning and engineering processes, knowledge and policy and increase the efficacy of our transport networks.
Show Me the Money, Sheconomy
Cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy, according to a report from the London School of Economics. Now considering that marketing strategists estimate that women control around 85% of consumer purchases across most brands, one can only speculate what that figure might rise to with continued support for women’s cycling and better catering for women across the cycle retail sector. Make no bones about it, the increase of women in cycling cannot only bring social, health and sustainability benefits to the UK, it can bring a wealth (literally) of economic benefits too.
But in order to achieve maximum growth, we need to make sure that women are better represented in the cycle industry. This means ensuring the cycling industry is better able to cater for female customers by supporting manufacturers and retailers understanding of the needs of women, and by increasing the number of women employed in the industry.
For more information on the Women and Cycling Conference #WACC2016 and WE Cycle UK visit http://wecycleuk.org/