Women-only swimming lessons breaking down cultural barriers – ABC News

Women-only swimming lessons breaking down cultural barriers
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For the first time in her life, Jackline Obbayi is learning how to swim and is getting closer to her dream of joining her daughter in the water. 
Ms Obbayi is one of several women who are learning the essential skill this summer, after a Perth council introduced women-only pool sessions. 
It opens doors to those women who avoid public pools for cultural or religious reasons, along with domestic violence survivors and those with body image concerns. 
Ms Obbayi said women-only sessions helped her overcome her own reluctance.
"I think because of the stigma around 'Africans can't swim' and the fact that we are older," she said. 
"We feel a bit shy or embarrassed that at this point, [that] we still can't swim." 
When she started lessons, Ms Obbayi thought, 'Oh, this is impossible' but has since gained confidence and determination. 
"I'm glad I've managed to step out and, having a daughter who's 10, who's like, 'Mum, you got to come out swimming with me' … I decided that this time around, I'm going to really get this done once and for all." 
On Sunday afternoons at the small Beechboro pool, you will find women swimming laps, female instructors giving lessons, and kids enjoying a rare trip to the pool with their mum. 
Resident Aliaa Al-Zayadi was the driving force for nearly two years and had argued women from multicultural backgrounds were often forced to travel, due to a lack of culturally appropriate facilities. 
"I'm so happy now about this, because a lot of women can come and enjoy this activity … we feel comfortable," she said. 
The sessions take place in the City of Swan, where the council recently raised concerns about the accessibility of swimming lessons for migrants. 
In November, Councillor Patty Jones put forward an unusual motion after two drowning deaths that shocked the local community. 
A local council in Perth's east rejects a bid for female-only swimming sessions, despite support from the mayor and multicultural groups who say the proposal could save lives.
Based on Ms Jones's proposal, the council voted to write to state and federal ministers to request "consideration that new immigrants are required to learn basic survival skills within 12 months of settling in Australia". 
The state government has formally rejected the proposal and the federal government said it already supported swim programs for new arrivals to Australia. 
Ms Jones told the ABC she did not know how the plan would have worked, but said: "All I was asking them to do [was] to look at doing something to help [migrants] when they get to Australia." 
It is a change in attitude for a council that initially rejected the idea of women-only pool sessions, over concerns that the move would be exclusive rather than inclusive. 
Councillor Cate McCullough said she was disappointed by the rejection and brought it back to council months later. 
"I think, as we see our community growing in its diversity and our multiculturalism, we have to continually adapt and change and look at how we embrace everyone," she said, "and this was just really important in doing that."
The program is a trial, but many hope it will win over council support and become permanent. 
It is the latest in a growing list of women-only and men-only learn-to-swim programs across the country, as Royal Life Saving Australia (RLSA) tries to address the higher drowning risk in multicultural communities. 
West Australian RLSA branch inclusion manager Achol Madong said swimming and water safety was vital in Australia. 
"Given the country that we live in, we are surrounded by water, it's very important that all members of our community have access to swimming lessons," she said. 
Their research shows adult migrants receive multiple benefits from such programs, including better physical and mental health as well as making new friends. 
Moira Mudzimwa has lived in Kalgoorlie for 15 years but has never been able to enjoy swimming with her children — until now. 
While there are more opportunities now, Achol Madong said more needed to be done to make swimming accessible to everyone. 
"We want to make sure that all local government pools are welcoming and that every member of the community should feel safe," she said. 
"If there are adjustments that need to be made so that they can feel comfortable, I think we should work towards those. 
"Women's only, or men's only, or reducing the price. We need to work together to ensure that every member feels comfortable." 
For 28-year-old Sarah, the sessions at Beechboro pool allowed her to dip her toes into a public swimming pool for the first time, and the swimming lessons could be a lifesaver.
As a Muslim woman, she said it was difficult to find appropriate facilities. 
"I'm not allowed to be, like, half-naked in front of men and I wouldn't be comfortable wearing all clothes and be hopping into the swimming pool, and not doing what I feel comfortable doing when there's men around me," she said. 
She has since become a regular at the pool's Sunday afternoon sessions. 
"I love it, and you know we've got friends and my sisters with me. We have fun here," she said. 
Both Sarah and Jackline Obbayi hope the program will stay, and perhaps be expanded to more public pools. 
"It's definitely worthwhile," Ms Obbayi said. 
"And, who knows, probably at some point, I'll also volunteer to help other people from the community." 
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