Highlighting the Inequalities of Swimming

"I Will Swim and My Daughter Will Swim Too" - An Illustrated book by Anđela Rončević
10 Jun 2021

Highlighting the Inequalities of Swimming

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Anđela Rončević, born in Zadar, Croatia, is an illustrator, writer, and a lover of community theater who spent the past eight years of her life studying abroad. Anđela explains that the friendships formed during her time at these schools were the start of her exploration on swimming and inspired her recent publication I Will Swim and My Daughter Will Swim Too. This time abroad connected her with many people from countries all over the world and it was the first time she had heard stories of mothers or sisters who could not swim. It was not until the summer of 2020 that she decided to delve deeper into this question: Why could some women not swim?

People say when you grow up by the sea it’s very hard not to think about the sea in every other thing you do. This was true for me. I grew up very close to the Adriatic sea. It is a Sea that is swimmable, blue and romantic during most months of the year. My parents always encouraged my siblings and I to go to the sea. They would tell us that going to the hills or forests we would encounter a witch, but that was their alibi to protect us from the mines in the forest after the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). To me, that meant the sea was the safest place to be.” This childhood connection to the sea was a big inspiration to Anđela and the women in her family. “My grandmother used to swim, she is not a professional, but to her, she often said ‘being in the sea is something that can heal you’. My grandmother told me the story of how her mother could not swim. My great-grandmother developed a trauma from swimming after a few teenage boys pushed her into the sea, and they saw her in her underwear. She used to wear those old-fashioned underwears down to her knees, but showing a little bit of skin was a taboo at the time. It caused her trauma. But my grandmother did not inherit this fear. After one generation, [my grandmother] was the fearless swimmer and beach-goer: often sun tanning and participating in swimming marathons.” Anđela’s mother also spoke about nudism during the time of Ex-Yugoslavia. “People came from all over the world to be free and naked on the Adriatic coast. Ex-Yugoslavia was known as the ‘nudist paradise’, which was not something you would expect from communist countries at the time.

Anđela Rončević

Anđela encourages that swimming and other daily activities are not to be taken for granted. Especially in regards to gender equality and sports. “Swimming is not such a common activity as it is understood in the West. Inability to swim tells us a lot about the history and the present in a country. It is not just about sports, it is about human rights.”

I Will Swim and My Daughter Will Swim Too is a compilation of beautiful illustrations and 20 interviews from women in 15 different countries, each a telescope into a different life. When asked about her experience with the interviews, Anđela stated “you have to adjust with every new conversation. Some people feel like they are discussing the topic over a cup of coffee, while for others it is more difficult and you have to pull the words out of them.” The biggest advantage for Anđela was that most of the women did not view her as a complete stranger to them, they were people who had been connected by friends in common. During a few instances Anđela found language gaps, but there was always a third person available for translation. She says “I enjoyed the process very much, everyone was very patient and open, and vulnerable to telling their stories as well.”

The title of the book was inspired by all the women she interviewed who said a similar statement “ ‘I would like to learn to swim, and I will teach my daughter too.’ Every time they mentioned their children, the interview became about the children; so full of love.”

As for reasons for the women’s inability to swim, Anđela mentioned: “the lack of attention, patience, and care given to them from adults in their lives. There is also a prevalent attitude towards swimming as if it is not a modest action for a woman to do.” When Anđela would ask if their brothers, fathers or male partners knew how to swim, 19 out of 20 women answered yes. Only one woman said her husband also has an aquaphobia. Other reasons were due to cultural stigma, lack of opportunities to learn to swim within that culture, as well as financial hindrances. There were some ecological and geographical reasons as well such as the distance to get to a body of water, pollution in nearby bodies of water like lakes and rivers, in addition to pools only being accessible by the wealthy. In Switzerland, where Anđela lives at the moment, it is obligatory for everyone to learn swimming at school by the age of 12. Anđela shares “I met a 47 year old woman who was the last generation before the enforcement of swimming classes in Switzerland. Since she was not in touch with water for so long, it turned into a phobia.”

It is so strange that I am so afraid of swimming when that was the first thing we all did in our mother’s bellies.” said Candice from India during her interview with Anđela. “There is a notion of the sacred connection to swimming, but the confusion of the reason behind the fear of it.

responded Anđela

When I asked Anđela to imagine her favorite moment by the sea she described: “My hometown, a summer day during sunset when all the heat of the day goes up a bit. It is so dense and intense. I love it. The sea feels like oil from the colors of the sunset. I do often think of my father who was a sailor and passed away not by the sea but at the sea. I always have this connection to my father while swimming.”

Anđela is currently finishing a masters of fine arts in Luzern, Switzerland at the Luzern School of Applied Sciences in Art. She hopes to take part in more freelance illustrations and to work at the local theater. She also plans to pursue a swimming teacher certificate to start teaching swimming to adults in Luzern – people who are not from or did not grow up in Switzerland, or who were unable to get a school education. That is why Swimming is an Equality issue.

Anđela’s book can be purchased on her webshop: www.andelaroncevic.net