By Erin Valois and Cassie Beth Friedman
Leena Muhanna can’t go to the gym at Ryerson. The fourth-year student and volunteer with the Muslim Students’ Association went to the RAC in her first year, but she was unable to continue. Her Muslim faith prevented her from exercising with men without wearing a scarf. She wasn’t used to being so close to the opposite sex and she stopped going to the RAC.
“We can’t exercise with men, I’m not used to it. I tried to go on a weekly basis but I had to quit. I just wasn’t comfortable,” she said. “It’s hard to exercise in a scarf. We need our own space.”
Facilities that cater exclusively to women and gyms that offer women-only hours are growing in popularity. From Curves to the YWCA — women across the country are heading to the nearest location to exercise comfortably.
But Ryerson’s Director of Athletics, Ivan Joseph, says that the university would need a new athletic facility to provide this level of service. As it stands, Ryerson barely has room for current gym members.
“The facility was built for a population of 8,000 and now we have 20,000,” he said. “
We don’t even have enough facilities for all of our current members.”
The Women’s Centre, an advocate for women on campus, may not be working on a campaign for women-only hours, but the campus group knows it is an issue for some female students at Ryerson.
However, Ashley Mathew, the summer coordinator at the Women’s Centre, says it is important for female students to speak up if they want to see change at the gym. When students wanted an extension of women’s hours at the pool, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) worked with the RAC to achieve it.
“Women can bring their concerns to us and we can form a group and take action. If this is an issue, we will ensure it is brought to the RAC’s attention,” Mathew said.
“We will definitely take it up if enough women come to us.”
Women-only hours have been at the pool since 1996. The facility is closed off to men three times a week in the afternoon so women are able to exercise without the presence of the opposite sex.
But for Muhanna, this is not good enough. She says that the women-only time should be longer because it doesn’t give female students enough time to prepare for their workout.
“They say that if they see more people coming to the pool hours, they might increase the time,” she said.
“But one hour is not enough. A lot of people don’t go because by the time we get changed and ready to go, so much time has already passed. One hour is nothing.”
Although the university has these special pool hours, the rest of the facility is unable to accommodate female students in the RAC’s tiny workout space.
At the University of Toronto, there is a daily women’s hour at its Strength and Conditioning Centre, which is similar to the RAC’s weight room. The time of the women’s hour varies daily, but it is always during the centre’s regular hours. Joseph says that the University of Toronto is able to accommodate women-only hours because the university has a larger student body and more facilities.
He is hesitant to make special hours for any group at Ryerson because other students would have less gym time in the already cramped facility — and there is no guarantee that special gym hours would be popular.
“If we try something new out and no one shows up, it sends a message back that people don’t want it,” he said. “If the gym is packed and we are fulfilling a need — then of course we would work towards improvement.”
Joseph suggests having specific hours for women to attend the gym — like coming late at night, after the RAC is closed to the public. This would require women to come after 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and after 6 p.m. on weekends. But these are times that are not necessarily safe for women to be out alone.
To counter this problem, Joseph also suggests renting a workout space from a nearby high school and using it for women-only hours. It would be close to campus, make for less congestion in the RAC weight room and provide a comfortable space for women to work out.
“We have to think outside the box and find out what we can do,” he said. “If we have more students using the gym, we have more students that are happier and engaged and enjoy what they are doing.”