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Swim or spar

By Irena Sprey - posted Wednesday, 24 February 2016

'Every Australian should swim', according to Swim Australia website.'Swimming skills', it states, 'are fundamental to every individual's safety'.

Our national obsession with water safety sees parents take children as young as eight weeks to swimming classes. Swimming is part of the school curriculum and many parents invest a lot of time and money on extra-curricular swimming lessons throughout primary and high school. Parents have been conditioned to think of swimming as compulsory. No one questions the wisdom of learning to swim.

According to the Royal Lifesaving National Drowning Report 2015, 271 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015. The 10 year average stands at about 280, [80% (225) of those are men, and 20% (55) women] with the number of drownings per capita decreasing steadily over the past ten years. In addition, many of the drownings that do occur are due to drug or alcohol consumption, pre-existing medical conditions or watercraft accidents - not lack of swimming skills.


So why am I boring you with these statistics? Only that they may provide a way to address another set of safety statistics familiar to most Australian women by now.

According to Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, from the age of fifteen, one in three women will be assaulted and one in five will be raped compared with approximately fifty women who drown yearly, at least one a week is murdered and over 23,000 (18-24 year-olds) are sexually assaulted. Police attend over 650 domestic violence incidents daily. These are just the reported ones.

These statistics are horrendous for a developed country and yet, we do not teach our women and girls how to protect themselves. There are no compulsory school programs, no media saturation, nothing remotely like the nationwide swimming initiatives to teach life-saving skills to women and girls.

When you look at the numbers above it becomes obvious that, at least as far as safety of women and girls is concerned, spending the first eighteen years of their lives improving their swim stroke does not address the real dangers to their lives in this country.

In my son's martial arts class there are a dozen boys and two girls. Over the past three years I've watched them all better their skills, improve their fitness and their confidence. They show tremendous respect for the instructors and each other.

I asked the mother of one of the girls whether she thought her daughter could defend herself if physically attacked. Her response surprised me.


'She is not going to get attacked,' said the mum.

'How can you be sure?' I asked.

'Because she doesn't walk like a victim,' the mum replied. 'She has physical confidence. No-one messes with her. Her body language says - back off.'

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About the Author

Irena Sprey is an engineer, teacher, parent, technical and freelance writer.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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