Girls on fire: alternative movement pedagogies to promote inclusion, resilience and engagement of young women in physical activity

    Activity: Community Talks, Presentations, Exhibitions and EventsPublic lecture/debate/seminar


    Local and global policy initiatives, guidelines, inquiries and research tell us repeatedly that there is a fundamental ‘problem’ associated with gender and movement. This ‘problem’ spans and has significance for a multitude of agencies working across government, health and education. What few of these agencies do is tell us what works or what might work as a response to ongoing gender inequities. In short if the ‘problems’ are lack of engagement, exclusionary movement practices, poor health outcomes, unimaginative pedagogical options, competitive environments, low self esteem, drop out and quitting … we know all too little about what the ‘solutions’ are or could be. The question begs - is anyone doing something different to address the contemporary challenges surrounding young women and movement? Thankfully the answer is yes.

    In North America a group of professional women are doing something quite different. They are professional fire and emergency services personnel and their pedagogy is youth fire fighter camps … for girls. The aim of this project is to investigate the potential of the youth fire fighter camp structure and design to provide an alternative pedagogical model for the engagement and retention of young women in movement and physical activity. Such an investigation has the potential to inform multiple stakeholders invested in the health and wellbeing of young women internationally. This project does not seek to add weight to the ongoing and repetitive discourses that problematize the involvement (or not) of women and girls in sport or physical activity and thus privileging certain kinds of movement and bodies over others. Rather it seeks to ask different questions and to look for different ‘answers’. As such the project seeks to tease out new, exciting, empowering, inclusive and embodied alternative movement practices that interject upon the normalisation and reproduction of such discourses by offering a different way to ‘do’ and use our female bodies. It is hypothesised that such an interjection and offering may provide young women with new knowledge about their embodied potentialities and identities, and physical education practitioners with new practices.

    The questions driving this project are:
    • Can/do the youth fire service camps provide an embodied educational and occupational dimension that is as yet untapped as a pedagogical movement option for young women?
    • And further, can this be modelled or replicated in the physical education setting?

    Surveys (n=15)
    Interviews (semi-structured with key personnel and volunteers)(n=21)
    Document collection (online from websites/Facebook; advertising, applications; schedules, programmes; handbooks, flyers)
    Participant observation (auto/ethnographic)
    Media (Facebook page; news coverage)

    Survey and interview data suggest the camps:
    • Provide young women with a variety of unique, embodied, inclusive and safe alternative forms of movement experiences that have physical as well as social and emotional health and wellbeing spin-offs for participants
    • Actively engage young women in the movements associated with fire fighting and have a positive effect
    • Promote interpersonal skill development, teamwork and acceptance of diversity
    • Build confidence, courage, and self esteem
    • Create a recruitment pathway for young women
    • Provide a space for the mentoring and support of volunteer female fire fighters of all ages
    • Play an important (yet understated) role in the retention of women in male dominated workplaces

    Findings suggest the pedagogical, social and cultural practices deployed in the youth fire camps have a variety of optimistic and positive effects on the health and wellbeing of young women. It could be argued that valuing movement for occupational reasons is at least as effective motivation to alter how we teach young women to move as for health or economic reasons/imperatives. As such the youth fire fighter camps present physical/sport educators with an interesting and innovative form of contextulized (occupational) learning with good potential to provide an alternative pedagogical model for the engagement and retention of young women in physical activity.
    Event titleInternational Association for Physical Education in Higher Education Conference 2017
    Event typeConference
    LocationGosier, GuadeloupeShow on map