University of Winnipeg introduces women’s-only gym hours

The University of Winnipeg (U of W) has started a new pilot project centered around providing women and non-binary people reserved access to the gym on campus, according to Laura Elsie Garinger, president of the U of W Students’ Association (UWSA).

The “Inclusive Gym Initiative,” which will run until the beginning of December 2017, is led by the UWSA board of directors, students, U of W Recreation Services, and the administration, according to the university’s website.

The initiative was started in May 2016 but was only implemented in September of this year to see if students would benefit from gym times, fitness classes or intramurals reserved solely for women and non-binary people, according to the UWSA website.

Garinger said the directors ran a survey on campus about students’ experiences at the gym and brought the recommendations from those surveys to the administration who later supported the idea.

There was a lot of push-back when the survey was first launched in fall of 2016, and there was also a lot of misinformation about what the new initiative would look like, she said.

Garinger explained that the U of W gym has two floors, with weights located on the first floor and cardio equipment on the second. She said women and non-binary people will be able to access the gym four hours per week, where both of the floors will be closed off for two hours at a time, without restricting other students.

Fitness studios will also be reserved for women and non-binary people three days a week in the evening, she added.

“People are still able to access the gym at that time, just not in those spaces. So, the rhetoric around people having to find new gyms or that they’re not able to work out is not true,” she said. “It’s about making more space for people who don’t feel comfortable accessing the gym.”

Joel Olfert, a student at U of W, told the Winnipeg Free Press that the new rules are “pushing a culture of exclusion under a veil of inclusion.”

“Unfortunately, my access to the fitness centre will be limited during the reserved hours on the basis of my sex. I am concerned that limited access on the basis of sex will negatively impact the university’s culture of inclusion,” Olfert told the Winnipeg Free Press.

Garinger said every student pays the gym membership fee as part of their tuition, and said the fact that 62 per cent of the university’s population is women, and yet 75 per cent of the gym users are men is “really saying something about who is accessing the gym.”

“Folks are able to work out together, this is not like we’re saying men and women have to be separated all the time in the gym,” she said.

Olfert told the Winnipeg Free Press that the reserved gym hours align with the time he uses to work out between class which will now restrict his access.

Garinger said that since the project has been in effect, they have not had any students come forward with complaints.

According to the UWSA website, one of the recommendations brought forward is having a new code of conduct for the gym implemented by spring 2017.

Students however have been leaving comments on social media saying this is a temporary solution to harassment, according to her.

“Yeah, it is a Band-Aid solution, but we also can’t undo harassment in one night,” she said.

The U of W is not the first campus to implement women’s-only and non-binary people’s gym hours.

In November 2016, the Carleton University Students’ Association’s Womyn’s Centre, in partnership with the Carleton University Muslim Students’ Association, the Rideau River Residence Association, and the Graduate Students’ Association, launched a similar campaign.     

The campaign for a women’s-only gym hour at Carleton later received a space in the multipurpose rooms at Carleton’s Athletic’s Centre for a women’s-only fitness hour, offered three times a week, according to the article.

Garinger said the continuation of the project is contingent on whether students are taking advantage of those reserved hours.

“As far as I can tell, people have been using the hours when they’re reserved,” she said. “I would like to see the project expanded myself.”

Photo by Angela Tilley