This Girl Can, Sport England’s award-winning campaign to help women get active, has turned its attention to tackling the exercise Enjoyment Gap – as it reveals 2.4 million fewer women than men strongly agree they find sport and exercise enjoyable and satisfying.
This Girl Can’s new campaign phase, ‘This Girl Can With You’, is a call-to-arms to sport and activity providers to dismantle the barriers that contribute to the Enjoyment Gap.
Enjoyment is one of the biggest motivators for people to take part in sport and physical activity – and with less than 60% of women active compared to over 63% of men, closing the Enjoyment Gap is an important step towards tackling the stubborn gender activity gap.
This campaign’s latest research finds that there is a wide range of practical and emotional barriers preventing women from getting active.
One in three (33%) women say they feel too tired or don’t have enough energy to be physically active; 29% don’t feel motivated enough, and 31% say they don’t have enough time.
Fear of judgement prevails, with key concerns for women including worries about not being fit enough (41%), what other people think of them (32%), showing their body (31%), being on their period (24%) and wearing tight clothing (20%). Over a third (38%) of women say they have felt judged when exercising.
Safety fears are another significant barrier to women enjoying exercise. More than one in five (22%) say they’re concerned about sexual harassment when doing sport and physical activity, a statistic that almost doubles (41%) when outdoors in the dark.
Three in 10 have experienced harassment first-hand while exercising, mostly on streets and in parks. Two-thirds (66%) worry about other personal safety issues, such as being mugged.
The barriers were deepened by the disruptions of the pandemic, with women slower to return to activity than men. Over a million fewer women now feel they have the opportunity to be physically active compared to pre-Covid-19.
More recently, the rising cost of living has become a barrier, with over a third (37%) of women saying it has had a negative impact on their ability to be active.
After extensive consultation and research with women from communities up and down the country, This Girl Can has identified four action areas with the power to dismantle the barriers faced by girls and women and close the Enjoyment Gap.
Activities for women must be Social (help women feel part of a community), Suitable (meet women’s needs), Self-Affirming (help women feel confident) and Safe (women must feel physically and emotionally safe when taking part).
‘This Girl Can With You’ will support organisations across the sport and physical activity sector to develop solutions in response to the four action areas.
The brand-new This Girl Can website has tools, tips and ideas for organisations to get started, with the insight building upon the brilliant work that many grassroots organisations and activity providers are already delivering to close the Gap.
Four inspiring groups and organisations working to close the Gap are featured in new This Girl Can films: Black Girls Do Run, Goal Diggers FC, Muslim Girls Fence, and Welcome Gym.
To kickstart the wider call-to-arms to close the Enjoyment Gap, This Girl Can partnered with Olympic gold medallist, Nicola Adams for an interactive boxing experience at Westfield Stratford City in London yesterday (27 February 2023).
Passers-by were invited to fight back against the barriers preventing women from getting active, by boxing using illustrative gloves and punch bags designed and painted by women’s art collective, Galphabetics.
Kate Dale, Director of Marketing at Sport England, commented: “The exercise Enjoyment Gap is yet another inequality between women and men. It can be too easy to accept things as the way they are; to not challenge the status quo.
That’s not what This Girl Can is about. We exist to get women active – and that means we’re here to shout about the Enjoyment Gap. Women deserve to get active as much as men; we want all women to benefit from the physical, mental and social rewards of an active life.
“From safety issues to heightened anxiety fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis, the barriers faced by women and girls in 2023 loom large and are deeply embedded in our society.
So this is a call to arms; we are rallying the sport and activity industry to join us to close the Enjoyment Gap by making sure activities for women are social, suitable, self-affirming and safe.
“There are already organisations out there doing brilliant things, and we want to spread the word and have more people join us. With you, This Girl Can close the Enjoyment Gap.”
The first female boxer to become a double Olympic gold medallist, Nicola Adams, knows all too well the barriers faced by girls and women, added: “For a long time, there was very little funding in women’s boxing – so much so that the female fighters used to have to share one shirt in tournaments.
I always tried to go first so it wasn’t dripping in sweat! I was called all kinds of names as a female boxer and even remember being regularly told to take up another sport or a different career. It’s no wonder there’s such a significant enjoyment gap in the number of women enjoying exercise, compared with men.
“These days, sport and fitness remain an integral part of my routine. I still train most days because it helps me feel good in myself and destress – and I’m a big advocate of encouraging women and girls to get make sure they get active too, in whatever way works for them.
“There are sadly still so many barriers women and girls come up against – but at the same time, there are lots of organisations out there doing great work to support women them.
Coach Alwyn Belcher, who is now 85 but still going strong training boxers, was so important when I was starting out in boxing. Individuals and groups who are committed to helping women and girls overcome the challenges they face have a huge impact in boosting their self-confidence, supporting mental health and getting them on the path to achieving great things.”
Tasha Thompson, the founder of Black Girls Do Run, said: “I founded Black Girls Do Run to create a space for women like me to come together because it didn’t exist before. We needed a safe and self-affirming space to come together, to feel connected, to feel confident and empowered that running is a space for Black women too.
“But if we didn’t enjoy running together, the group wouldn’t work as well as it does. The best activity to participate in is the one you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you are most likely to stick with it and make it part of your routine.
If you can make it social, and meet others to enjoy an activity with you, you will share that joy with a community which is very, very rewarding – and can motivate you to get active on the days you otherwise wouldn’t.”
Launched in 2015, to tackle the gender activity gap, This Girl Can is a campaign and movement by Sport England and funded by The National Lottery. It empowers women and girls of all shapes, sizes and sporting abilities by showing them that there is no “right” way to get active.
This Girl Can have over 700,000 of supporters in its community and is now inviting more organisations to join the next phase of the campaign, with a new website for partners and supporter’s toolkit.
To learn more about This Girl Can and the Enjoyment Gap, visit www.thisgirlcanwithyou.com