The 18th July 2015 is the first annual PADI Women’s Dive Day, part of the Women in Diving campaign aimed at increasing the percentage of female divers. Currently, statistics show that around 35% of PADI certifications are earned by women, which is simply not good enough and there’s no reason why the ratio of male to female dives cannot be (eventually) 50%-50%.
I have never thought that scuba diving was a predominantly male past time but when I think about it, my introduction to diving had a good share of female roles. Firstly, it was my lawyer boss who recommended I contact her dive club in Leeds to take the Open Water Course. My friend Anne and I then signed up and as far as I recall we were the only women in our group although we had a good share of female Divemasters and Instructors teaching us.
Historically, scuba diving as a hobby was very male-dominated with the first divers coming from the Navy and I guess that image stuck for a while. Women weren’t particularly excluded from the sport although the early promoters didn’t focus attention on attracting female divers and there was no attempt to actively include women. Diving was seen as a daring, adventurous activity, and that was something that women shouldn’t really be doing – Adventure is for boys!
Things have certainly changed, particularly gender stereotypes. Girls and women are just as likely to be looking for excitement, adventure and traveling the world as the guys are. From a marketing perspective, scuba diving is promoted as a fun, healthy activity which is easy to get involved in at any age, and any gender.
For some, like my mum, you’re never too old to start…
The first time my mum tried scuba was at the age of 70 when I taught my parents to dive in the Philippines when they came to visit. I won’t go into detail about that (you’ll have to read the blog I wrote at the time here) but it was a fun, if somewhat challenging experience! Apart from a refresher dive over a year ago they have not been diving since. As my mum was here in Playa del Carmen for a few days recently, and knowing that Women’s Dive Day was coming up, I decided it would be a great opportunity to get my mum diving again.
The great thing about living in this part of Mexico is that we have the fresh-water cenotes. Some of them are caverns and caves (obviously not suitable for me and my mum), whilst others are calm bodies of open water perfect for a 73 year-old PADI Scuba Diver. So last week the whole family had a day out at one such cenote. With the summer temperatures soaring, the cool, fresh water was very welcome! Angel played around in the water with the kids, whilst I did a few skills with mum to “freshen up” then went for a dive which (to my surprise!) went very smoothly. My mum got to experience her first fresh water dive, accompanied for the most part by Marc who was free-diving down to say hello to us. I’m even looking forward to the prospect of diving with my mum and dad again next time they are here!
This mother/daughter diving got me thinking about how women view the activity of scuba diving in relation to gender.
I asked my mum about her own perception of scuba diving. Like many of her generation, she was brought up on Jacques Cousteau films on TV and over the years got to know people who dived. “I didn’t see diving as male dominated as three out of five divers I knew were women” she told me. “Before I tried diving I thought it was complicated getting ready – and it is! But it’s worth it.”
She goes swimming during the week to the early morning “granny shift” at her local pool and as her fellow swimmers are predominantly women I wondered what they thought about her taking up scuba diving late in life. “They are impressed – but only because of my age. Like the dog who can walk on two legs, folks are impressed because he does it at all not because he does it well!”
Slowly and surely, more women are taking up scuba diving but there’s still a long way to go until – as far as numbers are concerned – the women divers equal the men. Hopefully the Women’s Dive Day, and the various events taking place around the world to promote it, can help to persuade women – young and old – to give it a try or get back under water.