Sports clubs, fire brigades complete the pilot Rural Challenge Project

Steven Abbott, Jessica Crofts, Zemeel Saba and Chris Harrington at the completion of the pilot Rural Challenge project - an initiative aimed at promoting gender equality and preventing violence against women.
Steven Abbott, Jessica Crofts, Zemeel Saba and Chris Harrington at the completion of the pilot Rural Challenge project - an initiative aimed at promoting gender equality and preventing violence against women.

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NETBALL has been part of the Bendigo Football Netball League for about 27 years. 

Looking around the South Bendigo Football Netball Club rooms at the start of the year, Alan Ellis said almost 125 years of football history were evident. 

“But we didn’t have a symbolic representation of netball,” he said. 

It took a pilot program, run by the City of Greater Bendigo and Macedon Ranges Shire, for the club to realise there was an unconscious gender bias at play.

Since becoming involved in the Rural Challenge Project, the club’s best and fairest pictures have changed.

“We have a best and fairest of the senior football and A-grade netball – it’s a combined picture,” Mr Ellis said. 

The club has arranged to preserve and showcase more of its netball history by framing an old uniform.

Mr Ellis was hopeful that, when people entered the club rooms, they would see a representation of a football and netball club. 

“Until they’re actually pointed out to you, you don’t pick these subtleties up,” he said.

In addition to learning about unconscious bias, barriers to women’s participation, masculinity, and prevention of violence against women, the Rural Challenge Project helped the participants develop gender equality action plans. 

Seven CFA brigades and three football netball clubs took up the challenge, which concluded on Wednesday with a celebratory dinner at the Boardwalk Bendigo Restaurant. 

Members from the Lancefield Fire Brigade, Lancefield Football Netball Club, Macedon Fire Brigade, Riddells Creek Fire Brigade, Kyneton Football Netball Club, Maldon Fire Brigade, Taradale Fire Brigade, Kangaroo Flat Fire Brigade, South Bendigo Football Netball Club, and Maiden Gully Fire Brigade were in attendance.

Maldon Fire Brigade captain Sean McCubbin said the program had highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion.

The brigade has about 50 active male members, and about four active female members.

“Like many brigades, the first challenge is getting someone in to break the mould, then it becomes easier and easier,” Riddells Creek Fire Brigade captain Tom Morley said. 

He said female membership had been slowly, but steadily, increasing.

About 15 of the brigade’s 42 firefighters are female. 

As the participants looked to implement their action plans, the Rural Challenge Project organisers were planning ahead. 

The initiative was recently awarded a $140,000 Community Partnerships for Primary Prevention grant by the state government to continue its work.

The pilot program was a collaboration between Macedon Ranges Shire Council, City of Greater Bendigo, Women’s Health Loddon Mallee, AFL Goldfields, AFL Central Victoria and CFA North West Region with input from Sports Focus and the Centre for Non-Violence in Bendigo. 

The Rural Challenge Project was made possible with the support of the state government and the Municipal Association of Victoria.