During the last training with the North Wales Cave Rescue team, I wondered if I was so far out of practice I no longer belonged in the team. But I also know that I think the team needs to be welcoming to people of all genders, and I do not have faith it currently is. And my experience is that if someone in the underground community does something sexist, and you speak out against that as a woman, all the men unite against you. If all the men means ‘everybody else’, you have a really lonely fight on your hands. So I think the cave rescue team should have enough women to always have a critical mass of them present. If one of the men goes beyond the pale, no woman will then have to deal with that alone. Hence that I decided I should hang on.
But what is the gender balance in the team, anyway? Me being the membership secretary means I can answer that. The team is 3/4 male and 1/4 female. That is who is on the books; what I think is more important is who actually shows up. So I had a look at the training records as well.
Since spring 2022, average female participation at training events has been 15%. There were five trainings where only one female was present. Three times, that was me. And four times, there was at least one of the men present with whom I personally have bad experiences on that front. The only time there was a training with only one woman, and none of these men, was an abysmally attended training session to which only two people showed up. So that actually was the only training we had with 50% women attending!
|A picture from our dog rescue in March 2023; notice the gender imbalance
So now what? I suppose I should step up my game. Gender equality is all very lovely, but it shouldn't result in people endangering themselves or others. I really need to know my way around rope work! So I should get another trip with Sharon in the books. And then I shouldn't rely too much on her. She is an outdoor instructor by profession; she could rig a complicated underground trip with her eyes closed.
I figured as a rule of thumb that if we have 30% female attendance at events, and at least a whole year without any events with only one woman attending, I could justify stopping. But that could be a long time coming. I'll have to be ready for the long haul!