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On International Women’s Day 2021, Surf Life Saving NSW recognises our valuable and incredible female members from across the state.

This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge which emphasises that ‘from challenge comes change’ and encourages us all to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements and collectively help to create an inclusive world.

From a Surf Life Saving NSW perspective, our new Strategic Plan has a focus on inclusion, and on increasing the diversity within club, branch and state management teams – gender is most definitely a part of this.

Fun fact: Despite 43% of our total membership and 37% of our patrolling membership being female, only 11% of presidents and 16% of club captains are female. 

There are a number of things that the organisation is doing and can do to support gender equity from our national Women’s Mentoring Program, to the case studies celebrating the contribution of women to SLS that you will see promoted through our channels this week, and to the Emerging Leaders Program that we are developing which will take a gendered look at giving members the confidence to put their hands up for leadership roles.

We had a chat to three inspirational women about who inspires them and their views of the roles that women play in our movement.

LIZZIE WELBORN – Nutri-Grain Ironwoman, Environmental Science student

MOLLY PARKER – SLSNSW Duty Officer, RWC (Jetski) Operator, Vice Patrol Captain, UAV Pilot, Surfboat athlete, trainee Paramedic

RACHEL CRERAR – Mum, Coach, Athlete, Physiotherapist

What are your views on women in lifesaving? What role do they play? 

LIZZIE: We (women) are so important because we are helping the next generation of girls believe they can do anything, especially when dealing with insecurities like body image.

Being on the beach, whether training, competing or patrolling, we spend a lot of time being vulnerable in our swimmers, which would turn a lot of women and girls away. However, there are so many women out there of all ages, cultures and sizes showing other women that it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can be involved in our sport. 

MOLLY: Women are becoming more and more involved in Surf Life Saving every season which is so encouraging to see. I love seeing women take on leadership roles, whether as patrol captains, club captains as well as higher up in our branches and as branch presidents. It is so important for women to get involved in their local club as well as the leadership roles within the club. Women are not as heavily involved as I would hope, but this could be for a lot of different reasons such as openings in leadership positions as well as having the confidence to step up in what is sometimes a male-dominated environment.

RACHEL: Women play such an important role in all aspects of lifesaving. There is certainly a long way to go before we get to equity when you look at the lack of women holding leadership positions and in sport but at least times are starting to change. I was the first female Nippers head coach at Manly Life Saving Club during the time of our first female junior president but it’s still difficult to maintain a position as a minority. We need to encourage women to step up, support each other and believe we can make a difference together.

Who is an inspirational female that you look up to? 

LIZZIE: At the moment I am incredibly inspired by my teammate Jemma Smith. She is so passionate about so many things and always finds time to do them all. I look up to her because whenever I feel like I don’t have time for something, she is a reminder to me that if I love it, I will always have time for it. She is one of the busiest people I know, but always has time to be a great friend and role model for the younger kids. 

RACHEL: I really look up to Naomi Flood. She has inspired me right throughout my involvement, from when I was a kid competing to now. She became the first female life member at Manly and is one of the only elite female coaches in the country. I have also always been inspired by Courtney Hancock who is a couple of years older than me. She’s always pushed the limits and continues to prove that age is no barrier in our sport.

Outside lifesaving, my mum is my greatest influence. She told me when I was younger that no one can tell you, you can’t achieve something. She told me I could do anything, and I did. Every time someone tells me ‘no you can’t’ it drives me to do it even more. When they told me I couldn’t train and complete a Physiotherapy degree I did and went on to win a state title. They told me not to compete when I was pregnant, and I went on to get second place in the 2019 Coolangatta Gold short course event. You have to keep that fire, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t! Thanks mum.

MOLLY: I look up to Brittaney Banks from North Bondi SLSC. Britt makes time to compete, take on leadership roles both within her club as well as branch and also volunteers as a duty officer on weekends and on Surf Rescue 30.

While doing this, she was also studying Paramedicine, while working as a nurse. For me, Britt has been an inspiration in encouraging me to get involved in all aspects of Surf Life Saving and confirms that you are able to compete, gain leadership roles as well as work hard towards any goals you set your mind to. Britt is always involved in leadership development camps, to help increase the awareness of women within leadership roles.

What ideas do you have to encourage more women in lifesaving? 

MOLLY: I would love to see more women becoming IRB drivers and RWC operators as well as taking on more roles at the surf club such as club captain and board positions. Younger women and girls look up to women in these roles and get inspired by seeing them make a difference. I would love to be able to encourage more women to become members and learn new skills by showing them a variety of opportunities available, from patrolling to taking on roles with greater responsibility.

I also think that there should be more all-female courses to make it easier and more comfortable for women to take part in training like IRB and RWC courses and leadership programs. It will help build people’s confidence in a supportive environment.

RACHEL: In sport, I think there could be changes to the difference in races like the Taplin Relay which for the boys is a 6-person relay but for females, it is a 3-person relay. These days clubs have the depth, strength and competitors to field a team and I would love to see that happen.

LIZZIE: Definitely encouraging young women to not let their insecurities prevent them from doing things they love. Encourage your friends and family to participate. Being part of what we do is such a healthy way of life and has so many benefits mentally and physically.


Monday 8 March 2021