Soumia Allalou and Raymond Grafton, two McGill Law students, are in discussions with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to seek endorsement for the implementation of women-only hours at the McGill Fitness Centre.
Allalou started the initiative after realizing that the school did not offer women-only gym hours, unlike the University of Toronto, where she previously studied.
“Recently, I wanted to get back into shape and inquired at the McGill Athletics facility when their women’s hours were,” Allalou said. “Due to religious reasons, I can only work out in a women-only environment [….] This was upsetting to me because ultimately, I am subsidizing a service that I cannot use.”
According to Allalou, women-only gym hours encourage women who aren’t as likely to use the gym facilities to go to the fitness centre.
“Women who do not feel comfortable using the gym because they are watched or harassed in a mixed setting can also feel more comfortable and exercise more freely [in a woman-only setting],” Allalou explained. “Women who are restricted due to religious reasons would be able to be included and use the gym.”
According to SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, the implementation of women-only gym hours would follow the steps of other facilities in the centre who have recognised a need for more inclusion.
“Other services in [McGill Athletics] have acknowledged the need for accommodation of particular needs to facilitate service access—such as women’s swim hours at the pool—and it is fair to extend this accommodation to other services, namely access to a fitness centre,” she said.
Allalou says she has received support for the initiative from male and female students alike. She is also conducting a survey to gather students’ opinions about offering women-only gym hours and gathering data on other Canadian universities that currently offer women-only gym hours, including the University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Ryerson University, York University, and Queen’s University.
“Based on my surveys, I hope that the SSMU will pass a mandate endorsing this campaign,” she explained. “I then hope to schedule a meeting with McGill’s Athletics Facility to discuss how we could go about implementing our suggestion.”
Stewart-Kanigan said she is also considering bringing the idea of women-only gym hours to the undergraduate student body.
“I have also offered the [students] the option of working with them to bring a motion of endorsement of this initiative to SSMU Council, allowing councillors to consult their constituents prior to voting,” she said.
Victoria Greco, second-year Education student and staff member at the McGill gym also claimed that intimidation and discomfort are two factors that influence women’s aversion in joining the fitness centre.
“I know more women would use more of the equipment,” Greco stated. “For example, the weight section is almost always occupied by males. So [females] might be less intimidated to go to the weight section and lift [if a women-only setting existed].”
Jared Ferguson, a first year master’s student in Exercise Physiology and McGill gym staff member, expressed similar sentiments.
“I think it would be pretty popular,” Ferguson stated. “I think it would be a good idea to get more girls involved who might not come regularly just for that reason. If there was a way that they could have a block of time where there was women only [… maybe] you would see a more even spread during regular hours.”