How To Celebrate International Women's Day 2021

By Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick at Wild Women On Top

When I heard the 2021 International Women’s Day Theme was “Choose to Challenge” I let out a wild “Woohoo!”

Challenge is my jam. It’s what gets me out of bed every day. Helping women challenge themselves is literally what we do here at Wild Women. 

I discovered the benefits of using hiking challenges as a path to empowering women in 2000, after a failed attempt to climb the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite my failure, I had a spectacular, exhilarating, life-changing adventure. Not long after, the lessons I learned on this mountain gave me the confidence, mental tuffness and resilience to cope with a challenging divorce and life as a single working mum. 

Not only did I survive this challenging time, but I began to thrive. I stopped sweating the small stuff – gossiping frenemies, whinging kids, people with road rage - and started focussing on the big stuff – healthy relationships, a job I love, my mental and physical health. My body and my mind got fitter, stronger and more powerful than it had ever been.  

And I knew that my mountain challenge played a huge role in this success. 

Unfortunately, for many girls, physical challenges including sports are discouraged – both overtly and subliminally – from an early age. According to 2019 research, more than half of Australian girls quit sport by the age of 15, compared to only 30 percent of boys. According to a 2019 study in The Lancet Global Health, women aren’t getting adequate physical activity and “the gap between activity levels of men and women is widening.” 

A review of evidence done by researchers from Dalhousie University and published on The Conversation found that “girls have complex relationships with physical activity, requiring an ongoing negotiation of gender roles and stereotypes. They have to navigate cultural narratives focused on the “body” in many parts of their lives every day. They are expected to be pretty but to appear natural, to be thin but not too skinny, to be fit but not too muscular.”

So how can we break women and girls out of this maddening double bind so they can enjoy exercise and improve their wellbeing without becoming obsessed with their bodies, their weight, their looks. 

Well, we #choosetochallenge. We challenge ourselves, of course. But we also challenge stereotypes, limitations, and judgements about what women can, and should, do. We challenge perceptions that women aren’t strong, tough, or outdoorsy.

We jump in the waterfall, go first down the abseil, learn how to put the tent up and carry our own gear. We ask for the promotion, the night off housework, the orgasm. We state our opinion proudly, loudly, confidently. We stop cleaning up after him. Seriously. Stop it! Your daughters are watching! 

Choosing to challenge yourself changes you. It teaches you to take risks and manage them wisely. It takes guts and courage. But when you do it, you experience exhilaration on a grand scale. 

Since I started Wild Women On Top nearly 20 years ago, a global women’s adventure movement has begun, supporting and nurturing many women to become strong, daring and active. Women’s only adventure groups such as Adventurous Women, Outdoor Women's Alliance, Wild Women Expeditions, Travel Play Live, She Went Wild, Girls Trek, Melbourne Girls Outside, Women Want Adventure and more are working hard to support women in their adventure goals and to encourage women to challenge themselves in nature. 

An empowered woman is more likely demand equality in all aspects of her life – from the boardroom to the bedroom. In recognising the positive power of outdoor challenges, we have an opportunity to forge a more gender equal world. 

Because equality is ultimately about women leading healthy happy lives. 

Wild Women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. 

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