ACT News

Tuggeranong Men's Shed split over allowing women to join

The prospect of allowing women to join one of Canberra's largest Men's Sheds has divided the group, with members on both sides of the debate threatening to leave if they don't get their way.

Tuggeranong Men's Shed president Jim Thornton said two women with "excellent credentials" wanted to the join the group and with no official male-only policy, the committee could have approved the new members but chose to put it to a vote after some members rejected the suggestion.

Peter Roe and Malcolm Mongan at the Tuggeranong Men's Shed last year.
Peter Roe and Malcolm Mongan at the Tuggeranong Men's Shed last year. Photo: Graham Tidy.

A member of the group, who declined to be named,  contacted the Canberra Times to say he was concerned that the proposal was being rushed through and there was a "strong case" for keeping the shed male-only but allowing women to attend occasionally to "share their knowledge" without becoming fully-fledged members.

"We haven't thought through the implications … it's been sprung on us with no sort of preamble," he said.

"[Members'] ages range from 50s up to about 92 … they're a highly conservative bunch and men of that age probably feel they need some space and there are wives that feel they need some space so they send them along to the men's shed.

"Being in an environment where it's just men makes it easier for some guys to talk about some of the issues that may be affecting them."

Mr Thornton said among the "rainbow" of arguments put forward by members opposed to women joining was men's exclusion from female-only gyms and concerns that prams would soon "clutter up the place".

"They think once women get in they'll take over, that's one comment, the other one is the fact we have people with various challenges that we need to protect," he said.

"One of our prime concerns is supporting men's health and the thought is that the men's health will be detrimental in some cases."

While he wouldn't say where he stood in the debate, he said some other sheds across the country did allow women to join while others kept their membership men only. 

"People feel that supporting men's health can only be done by men, but that again is a false argument," Mr Thornton said.

"Many of the sheds have women in there because they actually are social workers or the like and their skill set or benefit they add is that they can provide men's health support."

Mr Thornton said the group had not sought legal advice, but understood that as a voluntary organisation it was allowed to refuse female members as anti-discriminiation legislation did not apply.

The un-named member said the group had been told that one of the women had "incredible" woodworking skills and had built a yacht,  but weren't told if the two prospective female members had been referred to other woodcraft groups.

Mr Thornton would not reveal the identities of the prospective female members but said that between the two of them they had "pretty blokey" skills and experience in building, welding, and social work.

"And they wouldn't bat an eyelid about swearing, which is one of the issues [raised by members]," he said.

Women already regularly attend as guest speakers,  lending their expertise as social workers or men's health experts.

Members will discuss the proposal at a meeting on February 2 ahead of a secret ballot on February 9.

Mr Thornton said members on both sides had threatened to leave over the proposal, but he was trying to quell the disunity and was concerned it would impact on the shed's image.

"I'm trying to get people to back off from having ultimatums either way … and live with the democratic view of the membership," he said.

"People are changing their mind on a daily basis, it was roughly 50/50 at one stage, a straw poll indicated 60/40 in favour of women joining but since then there's been a lot of lobbying … and it may be 80/20 against women [joining]."

Debate was also raging over what proportion of the membership needed to agree to the change to allow women to join.

As the group's constitution does not exclude women,  Mr Thornton said it was understood only a 51 per cent vote was needed to carry the vote.

But the unnamed member said he believed a 75 per cent majority was needed to remove gender references in the group's charter and allow women to join in line with the incorporated body's rules.