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SHOCKED by the discrimination in women’s recognition at running events, young Commonwealth lawyer Jon Stanhope set out to create a women’s only fun run to attract more women and girls to the sport.
Thirty years on, the now YMCA Women and Girls’ Fun Run is an annual event that brings together more than 800 runners or walkers for a 5km course from Stage 88, raising funds for local Ovarian Cancer support group, OvCan.
In the early ‘80s, the former Chief Minister was working as director of Legal Services in the Department of Science and Technology. He was a keen runner and member of the ACT Cross Country Running Club. He recalls being conscious that there were so few women involved in organised running. Having always been interested in issues of gender equality and fairness, Jon says the catalyst came when he participated in a marathon.
“I remember vividly that the leading male received a return trip and entry in the Tokyo marathon, whereas the leading woman got a pushbike,” he says.
“I was deeply concerned about the disparity of prizes, which was not fair and discriminatory,” he says.
What followed was a series of conversations and correspondence between Jon and the club, in which the club cited the lower participation numbers of women in the event as the reason for the inequitable prize.
Jon says he persisted with his argument.
“I was told in the end that if I wanted change, why didn’t I do something about it? It was the old ‘put up or shut up’ argument,” he says.
Jon then decided to organise a women’s-only monthly jogalong event.
“Before we knew it we had 100 participants in the jogalong. From the success of that, I was able to better understand the perception of running that women had. It was quite clear that women didn’t like the aggressive competition of organised running and prefered a different atmosphere.
“It seemed obvious when entering the sport that women were looking for a different avenue that wasn’t as competitive so I resolved to then establish the women’s-only fun run.
“I was convinced that if it was well nurtured and advertised and the event was non-competitive and friendly, we would get the numbers.”
Setting the goal for 1000 entrants, Jon says by the third year, they had reached it. He became the race director, assisted by Linda Miles.
More recently, the event has been run by the YMCA, which Jon says has given it a new future.
“We know the statistics that traditionally there are more men participating in organised sports, although over the years a lot of change has happened in the ACT,” says Jon.
“There is still major discrimination that women face in the funding, support, sponsorship and media coverage in sport, and the women’s fun run attempts to help address the enormous disadvantage and challenges women face in accessing sport.”
Thirty years on, Jon says he is so glad that the fun run is still going. Joan Mallory and Suzanne Counsel have run it every year since 1987. Suzanne says that at 75 years, she’s slowing down a little but enjoys running four times a week.
“The fun run is such a good cause and it’s wonderful to see so many women running. Years ago hardly any women ran. I encourage everyone to not feel embarrassed and get into their running gear!” says Suzanne.
YMCA Women and Girls’ Fun Run, Sunday, March 6. Enter at wgfunrun.com.au