Women in the Hills Network Launches

Press Release: Women in the Hills

New network launches to rewrite what we know about the roles and experiences of women in the hills, and to identify barriers past and present, to improve female access to the uplands.

A new AHRC research network has launched to discover the factors that hinder, and improve, women’s experiences of running, hiking and climbing in UK uplands. The network will produce a set of recommended interventions to enhance women’s access to outdoor leisure.

In January 2019, UK fell-runner Jasmin Paris smashed male and female course records for the Montane Spine Race, a 268-mile non-stop winter race over the entire Pennine Way – and did so while expressing breastmilk at checkpoints. In 1878, climber Margaret Jackson forged a new route up the Dom, Switzerland’s second-highest mountain, and Ada Anderson speed-walked 1500 miles in 1000 hours. These women found what many others, before and since, have discovered: that the benefits of upland activities, and the barriers to getting involved in them, are distinct for women in the hills.

A female mountaineer’s experiences are different to her male counterparts, yet only 3% of sports science studies between 2011 and 2013 used female participants. Women’s outdoor clothing is often produced by ‘pinking and shrinking’ equipment designed for male bodies. These factors correlate with lower female participation in outdoor leisure: a recent study estimated that only 35% of participants in general outdoor activities and 20% in mountain sports are female. And the inclusion of women’s voices in cultural accounts is similarly muted: key nature writing anthologies are up to 90% male-dominated.

The Women in the Hills (WITH) research network, funded by the Art and Humanities Research Council, addresses these gaps. WITH unites scholars, creative practitioners and stakeholders concerned with the contexts that have shaped women’s land use from the flourishing of outdoor leisure in the early 1800s to the present day. These individuals and organisations will work together to produce a series of guidelines and interventions for cultural and political groups to use to improve the quality and frequency of women’s inclusion in upland activities.

WITH is led by Dr Rachel Hewitt (Newcastle University), Dr Kerri Andrews (Edge Hill University) and Dr Joanna Taylor (University of Manchester). Working alongside the project’s partners and advisory board – conservation charity John Muir Trust, women’s trail-running company Girls on Hills, pelvic health campaigners Pelvic Roar, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission’s 2019 Poet-in-Residence Zakiya Mackenzie – WITH will assess how women have experienced the uplands in the past, and ask why that matters for societal, psychological and health developments in the future. Together, WITH and its collaborators will identify strategies to promote women in the hills in the coming decade.

Izzy Filor, a conservation officer with the John Muir Trust, said: ‘The John Muir Trust are really excited to be working with a diverse group of organisations as part of this research network. We hope that the WITH research network will inspire and support people to experience wild places, especially those who may not currently feel able to.’

Founder and Co-Director of Girls on Hills, Keri Wallace, said: ‘Girls on Hills are excited to be part of a diverse and talented team, coming together with the goal of re-writing the history of women in the UK hills, and setting a new and easier path for women in the future.’

For more information, please visit the project website (https://womeninthehills.co.uk/) or get in touch with the network directors (Rachel Hewitt, Kerri Andrews and Jo Taylor) at womeninthehills@gmail.com or via Twitter: @WomenInTheHills.