New council plan bolsters women and girls in sport, despite “messy” gender framework

New council plan bolsters women and girls in sport, despite “messy” gender framework
David Schout

A new policy to provide better access for women and girls in sport has been introduced by the City of Melbourne.

With a growing population and “increasing demand” on sports infrastructure and open space, the council said it was “imperative that we carefully plan and manage these resources” within the municipality.

In conducting focus groups, interviews, and surveys in late 2023, the council heard that women and girls wanted facilities that made them feel welcome, were well designed and maintained, and wanted to feel safe getting to and from community sport.

Others expressed a desire for easier introductions to sports and recreation activities that are “non-threatening” and “build skills and confidence”.

“The unequal provision of sports facilities and services to women and men, and girls and boys, is well documented,” Cr Rohan Leppert said at the February 20 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“Council is a locally, regionally, and state significant provider of sports facilities and demand for those sports facilities far exceeds supply.

“So, it’s important that we have a policy about allocation, and that the policy explains how it will work to address inequalities and facilitate positive discrimination in favour of women and girls.”

Before approving a draft policy, and draft action plan for “fair access” in sport over the next three years, however, Cr Leppert expressed concern that it could fail to meet its objectives.

The Greens councillor said that different terms and concepts in the policy were “either undefined or they are inconsistent with Victorian law” which he said left “significant potential for interpretational dispute”.

Chief among these was the fact the policy before councillors referred exclusively to “gender”, rather than “gender and sex”, despite the fact the Gender Equality Act 2020 states that women have historically experienced discrimination and disadvantage on the basis of both.

“For centuries, the provision of sporting facilities here in Melbourne and globally has discriminated against women and girls on the basis of sex,” Cr Leppert explained.

“Despite this, the term ‘sex’ is not mentioned once in the draft policy we are considering today.

“We also know that gender is not a polite byword for sex for the purposes of this policy because in the Gender Equality Act, these two terms are clearly expressed as separate concepts.

“Gender is also not a byword for gender identity. They too are separate concepts in the same act of parliament …”

“It is frustrating that the Gender Equality Act makes no effort to define the term ‘gender’. But that is the situation. The question for councils and other defined identities under that act is what to do about it.”

Cr Leppert said the lack of clarity was giving rise to a “pretty messy policy framework” across state and local government.

He said it was the council’s duty to provide a “clear policy framework” so that staff could do their jobs confidently, particularly when determining the allocation and use of community sport and recreation facilities.

“Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because this is a policy that seeks to advance the interests of a historically oppressed group, without defining that group. If allocation disputes do arise, council staff who are charged with implementing and upholding the policy will take on the role of adjudicator, but they will probably struggle to make decisions that are understood and supported by all affected parties.”


We have hundreds of clubs and associations that seek to use council sports facilities, and let’s be real about this: they don’t all agree on concepts of sex and gender.


Cr Leppert advocated that council policy should not exclude groups who organise based on sex, nor groups that organise on the basis of gender identity.

“Part of governing a diverse municipal community is respecting that diversity, including the diversity of opinion and the rights of clubs and associations to self-determine the basis of their association within the bounds of the law, of course. And I don’t want council to become embroiled in adjudicating which of these clubs are correct and which are incorrect.”

An amended draft policy, backed unanimously by councillors, stated: “The council will avoid adjudicating between clubs and associations that have chosen different lawful bases on which to advance the interests of women and girls.”

The draft Policy and draft Action Plan are now open for public comment, with the community able to have their say. •

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