According to Nuffield Health, 48% of girls feel embarrassed about physical activity
The report, conducted by health organization Nuffield Health, also found that 48% of girls feel embarrassed when they exercise – compared to 28% of boys.
There are a variety of complex reasons behind these numbers, with barriers to girls’ participation in sport ranging from social stigma to harassment and safety issues to simply lack of access.
However, experts have warned that without action, these barriers will remain and young girls will feel the effects on both their physical and mental health as they grow up.
Why do girls do less sport than boys?
A Survey of 27,867 girls A study conducted by children’s charity Youth Sport Trust found that between 2018 and 2021, the top barriers to sport for girls were:
- lack of trust (33%)
- do not want to be observed by others (33%)
- Periods (37%)
This is in line with a study conducted by Sport England in 2022, which listed fear of judgement, lack of confidence and not enough time as the top practical and emotional pressures preventing women from being more active.
However, the report also found that women’s fears for their own safety is an obstacle that has become increasingly common in the past year.
One in five women is reported to be concerned about the risk of sexual harassment linked to physical activity or exercise, rising to 38% for 16-20 year olds.
More than a quarter of women are also concerned about ‘personal safety’, excluding sexual harassment (such as evening gym classes in winter) – making this one of the main reasons for the gender gap in physical activity.
Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth, who helped launch the This Girl Can campaign, wrote in March: “What this study is telling us is that women are being denied their right to participate fully in public life – which undoubtedly contributes to the gender activity gap.
“As a man, I find this embarrassing and I am committed to doing everything in my power to help us all deal with this head on.”
He said Sport England will look at the root causes of women’s safety fears and aim to challenge the culture that causes women to feel intimidated.
Mr Hollingsworth continued: “Our goal is for all women to feel safe wherever they take part in activity – whether it’s jogging in the local park, taking a stroll around town, using their local pool or leisure centre.
“Accessible, welcoming and above all safe facilities are the key to participation.”
This echoes a July 2021 report by the non-profit organization Plan International UK, which found that two-thirds of girls have changed their everyday behavior to avoid sexual harassment in public.
This included 24% of girls who chose to avoid exercise.
Eva, 19, from Liverpool, told Plan International UK: “I’m currently training for a marathon which means I face public sexual harassment – like being yelled at by cars and being honked at – almost on a daily basis while running.
“When I was much younger, I didn’t exercise at all in public after a man in a van yelled about my boobs while running.”
Eva was 11 years old at the time of the incident.
She continued, “As a result, I was severely disabled during my teenage years and both my mental and physical health suffered as a result.”
Nuffield Health research found that parents expect their daughters to spend between four and seven days at home each week during the summer holidays.
What is the impact of the Women’s Euros on girls’ sport?
The Lionesses made history by taking home the elusive trophy as the England women had never won a World Cup or Euro before.
That victory also secured England’s first major football tournament title since 1966, when the men’s team defeated West Germany 4-2 in the FIFA World Cup final.
But the records didn’t stop there – 87,192 fans watched the final of Women’s Euro 2022 at Wembley Stadium, a turnout that was the highest ever reported attendance at both the men’s and women’s editions of the tournament.
Yvonne Harrison, CEO of Women in Football, told Mazic News: “The Lionesses’ amazing triumph is a historic moment and the start of the next phase for women’s football.
“With a combined TV and online audience of more than 23 million enjoying an atmosphere of dreams, this result will help change perceptions for years to come.
“The legacy of the Women’s Euros was planned from the start and with that comes the step of girls having equal access to football at school – and more women qualifying as coaches and officials.
“Role models on and off the pitch are so important and that includes roles in the governance and administration of football, which is why at Women in Football we do what we do and champion gender equality across the football industry. “
The lionesses themselves shared these sentiments in an open letter they wrote to the government, demanding that all girls be allowed to play soccer at school.
The team wrote: “During Euro we spoke as a team about our legacy and our aim to inspire a nation.
“Many will think that this has already been achieved, but we see this as just the beginning.
“We want every young girl in the country to be able to play football at school.”
The letter pointed out that currently only 63% of girls can play football in school, meaning England Women “inspire young girls to play football, only many end up going to school and not being able to play”.
The team said: “It’s something we all experienced growing up.
“We were often stopped from playing, so we put together our own teams, traveled around the country and against all odds we just kept playing football.”
What measures can be taken to improve girls’ access to sport?
Nuffield Health is hoping to close the school holiday activity gap with its new Move Together program it is offering fun, inclusive and free training courses at 114 locations across the UK.
Classes are offered in a range of disciplines — including boxing, Pilates, yoga, dance, zumba and circuits — and are held at local parks and community centers.
Sport England has launched its 10-year strategy, Uniting The Movement, which aims to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.
Women should be able to return to everyday life with confidence – including exercise and sport.
Ultimately, experts are calling for several things to improve girls’ access and participation in physical activity.
This includes more encouragement, safer spaces, more role models and better opportunities – and only then can we hope for more gender equity in sport from childhood to adulthood.