Swimming society looks for one hour women-only swim

On the surface, the proposal for a women-only hour at Dalhousie University’s Sportsplex may seem to exclude swimmers, but its intention is the opposite.
When the Halifax YMCA on South Park Street closed this May, members had to go elsewhere to workout. But for some, there are no other options. At the time of its closure, the YMCA was the only organization in Halifax that hosted regularly structured swimming lessons for women to learn how to swim without the presence of men. Now there are none.
In April, the Dalhousie/King’s College Swimming Society started working with the Nova Scotia Association of Women and discovered that many of its members want a women-only hour. The president and co-founder of the society, Harry Critchley, also approached the Women’s Committee of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association (DMSA) about what requirements they would need.
The absence of men is a crucial concern for many adult women learning to swim, particularly for Muslim women, who also need windows looking into the pool to be covered during lessons.
“It just seemed like there was really no place where these people could go and take structured lessons. Like, the Canada Games Centre has an open swim for two hours every Sunday. They have one hour for men and one hour for women, but no one was teaching lessons,” said Critchley.
Zahraa Charri is an active member of the DMSA and encouraged her friend Ghaida to start the Women’s Committee section of the association. Raised in Halifax, she does not know how to swim.
“I’ve been to the beach maybe twice while wearing the hijab,” said Charri, “but I think one of the hard things is that it’s already really hot, unless you wear the hijabi swimsuit. It’s kind of like a scuba diving suit, but a little more comfortable and it has a fabric that kind of makes it looser around the waist and the buttocks and the breast area, so that it fits the appropriate swimwear. I personally would never wear (the hijabi swimsuit), just because it looks really odd and not comfortable, but the swimwear that’s required and how much you have to cover up is hard to do at public beaches.”
Open swims are not enough for adults learning to swim, and new immigrants are four times more likely to drown than native Canadians, a recent study discovered. Restricted access to women-only pool times plays its role in these statistics.
Charri’s mother had a near-death experience in the water when she was younger, and before she began wearing the hijab, Charri also nearly drowned while swimming.
“I would be obviously flailing around or something like that, I would get swept away from the kiddie pool. I kind of choked on the water. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was to my mom,” she said.
In order to break down more barriers, not only would the lessons have experienced instructors – all of whom are students at King’s or Dalhousie – but they would also be free.
Last year, the DMSA tried to start a similar proposal, but had trouble getting it approved by Dalhousie.
“I’m really thankful that the Swimming Society… could really help us with this. I think it’s a really good program because Dalhousie promotes multicultural diversity on campus and, especially since they are trying to get more international students on campus, it would be really nice if they were to encourage the facilities that most of the international students are used to. Back home, you would almost always expect that there would be a women-only session for swimming pools and beaches,” said Charri.
Although the Swimming Society was hoping to have the process of creating the lessons started for the end of September, Dalhousie has not released a timeframe for the proposal.
Kathie Wheadon-Hore, the director of facility and business services for athletics and recreational services at Dalhousie had plans to talk about the proposal this summer in order to process it, but many of the people involved were on vacation. The Dalplex would be accountable for both the program and regular business, so the necessary measures are being evaluated.
“It’s not that we’re against it at all,” said Wheadon-Hore, “but to close the pool for an hour for a special group, we want to make sure there is a demand from our students. Our first priority is and remains our students, and that’s what we look at first with proposals. If we can do it, we surely will.”
Although Critchley is concerned about the delay, he agrees with the student priority.
“That’s really the only intention of our program,” said Critchley, “is just to improve accessibility to a really important aspect of Canadian life, and also to make people feel safe and comfortable in an aquatic environment. So they can fully take advantage of these things that tend to be cherished Canadian pastimes.
“It’s also breaking down the illusion that, at this point, swimming lessons are accessible to everyone.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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