Active Women: UNSW's 'first of its kind' strategy gains international recognition

The UNSW Active Women Strategy is a finalist for the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Gender Equality Awards, joining esteemed projects from across the world.

Group of women smiling in sports kit after competing

UNSW was the first university in Australia to launch a women's sport and recreation strategy. Photo: UNSW Sport.

It’s been two years of disruption for sport and recreation.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all levels of sport – from community to professional levels – in ways no one could have predicted.

For women’s sport and recreation, it has been a period of excitement and growth, but also one that has highlighted the mass inequalities that continue to persist.

When UNSW Sport launched the Active Women: UNSW 2025 Women's Sport and Active Recreation Strategy (Active Women Strategy) on the eve of the first lockdown in Australia last year, it aimed to address these opportunities and challenges in a holistic way.

As the first Australian university to launch a women’s sport and active recreation strategy, UNSW set goals under four pillars: participation; investment and infrastructure; marketing and promotion; and leadership and governance.

This pioneering strategy gained international recognition this month, named as a finalist (in the top 4 nominees) for the FISU Gender Equality Project Award.

The FISU supports projects that increase the participation of women in the university sport movement and encourages its “members to develop these projects in order to inspire others to increase their efforts and resources committed to this topic”.

The Active Women Strategy joins other projects from across the world that have made significant efforts to advance and achieve gender equality within university sport.

Read more: UNSW celebrates Active Women this International Women's Day

I am delighted to see this UNSW initiative recognised on the world stage,” UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Eileen Baldry says.

“The Active Women Strategy is an excellent example of the University’s ongoing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

“Gender equity is central to this commitment; we strive towards it across UNSW, whether it be in the classroom, in the boardroom or on the sporting field.”

Alex Blackwell

Alex Blackwell, UNSW alumna and former Australian cricket captain, says she is proud that the UNSW Active Women Strategy is getting noticed on the world stage. Photo: UNSW Sport.

As a part of the Strategy, a new Alex Blackwell Award was developed and added to the annual UNSW Blues and Sports Awards Dinner. 

Named after Alex Blackwell – a former Australian cricket captain, UNSW alumna, and advocate for women’s sport and LGBTIQ+ people – the award recognises those who uphold the values and vision of the strategy.

“The Active Women Strategy has shown UNSW’s strong dedication to the pursuit of equity, diversity and inclusion in sport,” Ms Blackwell says.

“It was an honour to present the first Alex Blackwell Award in March, which celebrated the upholding of these values in the UNSW community.

“I’m proud to see this initiative recognised globally.”

Read more: UNSW Sport's night of nights celebrates community's resilience

UNSW student Miriam Abd Elmesseh, the Inaugural Alex Blackwell Award recipient, says the strategy has generated a supportive community for students.

 “Starting sport at UNSW, I never imagined all the opportunities I would have to grow as both a competitor and a leader,” she says.

Alex Blackwell presents an award to Miriam Abd Elmesseh

Miriam Abd Elmesseh (right) was the inaugural recipient of the Alex Blackwell Award. Photo: UNSW Sport

“At each stage there were inclusive policies and environments to open doors, but most importantly a supportive community to help push through challenges.

“It is this continual commitment to student care that underpins the AWS Strategy and drives its exciting future endeavours.”

The Active Women Strategy was developed in line with the NSW Office of Sport’s Her Sport Her Way Strategy.

Key to the delivery of UNSW’s Active Women Strategy is the broadening of the definition of sport to encompass all forms of active recreation.

“UNSW is definitely leading the way with this ground breaking strategy - the first of its kind among Australian universities,” Kerry Turner from the NSW Office of Sport says.

Read more: Alex Blackwell Award celebrates advocacy and inclusion

We know that the issues affecting participation and leadership for women in sport are well established and require a strategic approach to drive change.

For this reason, I’m so impressed by the team at UNSW for their commitment to developing this comprehensive suite of evidence-based initiatives, designed to break down barriers and grow participation for women in sport on campus.”

The winners of the FISU Gender Equality Project will receive a grant of up to 5000 euros from FISU and the key criteria will be based on sustainability and replicability.

Winners of the Gender Equality Awards will be announced at the FISU General Assembly 2021 in Chengdu, China later this month.