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When there was no inclusive fitness space available, this MUN student pioneered her own | CBC News



Sabah Kadir says that personal challenges she faced as a Black Muslim woman inspired her to create a new inclusive fitness space at the university. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

There are four universities in Canada that offer female-only fitness spaces at their recreational facilities, and Memorial University isn’t one of them.

Sabah Kadir, a recreation student at MUN, is hoping to change that.

“This project kind of originated from the challenges that I faced when trying to engage in recreational activities,” said Kadir.

Kadir said that as a female, Black, Muslim student, she struggled with culturally sensitive spaces at MUN.

“I would have to think about, ‘OK, what kind of clothing do I need to wear?’ Because, you know, the space does not accommodate that,” she said.

For Kadir, like many Muslim women, part of her cultural background involves dressing modestly, which can pose barriers in recreational settings. 

Clothing constraints combined with male presence at the university’s gym added to feelings of low self-confidence and a lack of belonging for Kadir. 

“I felt that I couldn’t connect to the individuals that utilized the space, and that decreased my ability … decreased my engagement in physical activity levels.”

Kadir said that she knew if she was feeling this way, there may be others who were in a similar situation, and set out to create a space for them.

In a recent research methods class, Kadir’s professor, Katie Wadden, asked students what problem they would solve if they were to imagine a scenario where they had no constraints, and all the resources in the world. 

Kadir proposed the idea of women-only hours at recreational facilities at the university.

A smiling woman with long brown hair stands in a gymnasium.
Katie Wadden, associate professor at Memorial University, says that she hopes other students will be inspired by Kadir’s dream proposal becoming a reality. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Wadden said that as an educator and a women’s health researcher, she felt a sense of responsibility to support Kadir in this idea, and to help her address the need for more culturally sensitive spaces in university settings. 

From this, the idea for Moment for Movement was born.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Kadir organized the first installment of Moment for Movement, a space for exclusively women and female-identifying people to engage in physical activities.

The event will involve a dedicated time in the physical education building gym for women to enjoy various student-led activities like yoga, zumba, and aerobic exercises.

“[The] event is a celebration for International Women’s Day,” said Wadden. “But it’s also an event to raise awareness for the need to start to think about this current student population that we have, and the access to recreational spaces.”

Wadden says that these types of inclusive spaces are especially needed as the student population at MUN grows and diversifies. 

“By providing an inclusive space, it allows for individuals of different cultural backgrounds, whether it’s religious, you know, different physical activity levels, to comfortably … use the gym,” said Kadir.

A woman wearing glasses and a pony tail stands in front of a set of red bleachers.
Sarah Higdon says that any step towards removing barriers of intimidation surrounding physical activity is a step in the right direction. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

One of the Moment for Movement volunteers is Sarah Higdon, who says the cultural barriers to fitness that students like Kadir face are in addition to the regular barriers posed to those who use the university as their main fitness hub. 

MUN’s gym, Higdon notes, is not open 24 hours a day like some other private gyms in town. 

“Having an opportunity to bring students, females in particular, to the same space to do low impact exercises really gives people the opportunity to find that school-life balance and participate in physical activity in an inclusive, and just really accessible, fashion that they might not get if they have to go and try to do it on their own,” she said to CBC News.

Higdon says there is a huge importance in lifelong physical activity in terms of health benefits.

“So any step we can take to remove some of the barriers or the intimidation surrounding physical activity is a step in the right direction,” said Higdon. “Even just one person, then that’s a help, right?”

The original Moment for Movement event was scheduled for International Women’s day on March 8, but was postponed due to weather conditions. 

Now, the inaugural event will take place on March 15.

Kadir says she hopes this sort of inclusive space will become a permanent fixture at MUN.

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