Learning how to swim is a rite of passage for water-loving Kiwis. However, it can be a challenge for some women. Cultural customs mean many women need to keep their bodies covered around men. And so, participating in lessons and developing water confidence in public swimming pools is difficult. All that's about to change thanks to an exciting initiative from the West Auckland Women-only Pool Collaboration Group.
The multi-agency group is spearheaded by Community Waitākere, with funding from the Ministry for Ethnic Communities and The Trusts. And the programme is set to launch in mid-May at Dean Greenwood Swim School pools in Kelston, New Windsor and Massey.
A pilot programme took place at the New Windsor pool in 2020 and was hugely successful. Participants were very enthusiastic and keen on more opportunities.
Community Waitākere Community Developer Shalema Wanden-Hannay explains more: ‘A good number of the women had never been in a pool before,’ she says. ‘I realise just how much I take for granted the opportunities I've had to experience and form a bond with water,’ adds Shalema.
The new eight-week programme has now expanded to three locations. The sessions are targeted at women, who, for cultural reasons, need to keep their bodies covered around men, which limits opportunities for them to develop crucial water-safety skills.
Demand has far exceeded expectations, and the sessions are already fully booked. However, Shalema says there are plans to run more programmes later in the year.
The water is integral to New Zealand's culture and national identity. And West Auckland’s beautiful wild beaches are a magnet for water lovers across the region. According to Shalema, all women should be able to experience the joy of being in the water and have the confidence and skills to do so. And it’s hoped the women can pass on their new-found love of the water to their children by encouraging them to learn to swim.
‘It’s especially important for newly arrived refugees and migrants,’ Shalema says. ‘The programme has been critical in developing a sense of belonging and inclusion for these women,’ she reports.
Shalema points out that women-only pool sessions offer enormous benefits, including better health and mental wellbeing. Furthermore, participants develop strong social and support networks that continue on dry land.
For more information or to register an interest in future programmes, contact Shalema Wanden-Hannay email@example.com.