There are two key issues related to gender parity in the Paralympics: the numbers of women participating and the number of events available to female athletes. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is targeting gender parity at future Paralympic Games in terms of participation and the number of medal events for each sex.
Charlene Todman was the first Australian to compete in the Stoke Mandeville Games, competing in the 1951 edition as a member of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital team. A wheelchair athlete in archery, she was a paraplegic who was rehabilitating following a horse-riding accident. Of the 12 athletes who competed in the first summer Paralympic Games, held in Rome in 1960, only one – Daphne Ceeney – was female: Ceeney was a distinguished athlete who won 14 medals across five different sports in three Paralympics.
Total female participation by all countries in the Paralympics has grown over the decades, but women’s representation hovered well below 30 per cent until the 2004 Athens Summer Games.
In 2016, at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, 73 of the Australian team’s 176 athletes were female (41.5 per cent), which was a higher female representation than the average of all nations (37.9 per cent).
Australia’s first female representative at a Paralympic Winter Games, however, did not come until 2006 with alpine skier Emily Jansen.
In terms of eligible events, women are faring a little better. In 2016, women had 226 events in which they could compete (42.8 per cent of the events, which was up from 39.8 per cent at the 2012 Games). While they could participate in 42.8 per cent of the events at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Australia’s female athletes were also involved in winning 52.4 per cent of Australia’s medals in those Games.
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