More female leaders are needed to ensure ‘this girl can’

8 August 2018

Increasing female leadership in sport is the most urgent issue that needs to be addressed in order to reduce inequality in the sporting profession and encourage more women to participate in sport, according to a global research report exploring women and sport that our academics have worked on.

The report, published by the International Working Group on Women and Sport, tracks the global progress made within the women and sport movement every four years (since 1994). The new 2018 report analyses the questionnaire responses of 158 sporting organisations worldwide, in addition to including case study examples of efforts made to promote equality in sport.

Professor Elizabeth Pike, Head of Sport, Health and Exercise at the University of Hertfordshire and a lead researcher on the report, said: “In almost all countries and cultures, girls and women participate in less physical activity than boys and men.  While it is reassuring that almost all organisations have taken actions to increase the involvement of females in physical activity and sport, the development in active participation seems not to have been followed up by an increase in female leadership.

“Our report found that actions are needed to increase women in decision-making positions, prevent gender-based violence in sports and improve the portrayal of women in sports in the media. There are key steps that sporting organisations around the world can take to make this happen; the development of a gender policy, with a gender equality action plan, is an ideal starting place.”

The key findings from the report indicate that sporting organisations are making progress to advance women’s participation in sport; 91% of the respondents took positive steps to increase female participation in sport, 81% to increase women’s leadership and 77% to increase the number of women coaches. The survey also examined the pressing areas which needed addressing; of these the lack of women in decision-making positions is the statement mentioned by the highest number of organisations as the most important inequality that girls and women encounter (53%) followed by the lack of female coaches and instructors.

The areas where the fewest actions have been taken include improving how girls and women in sports and / or physical activity are portrayed in the media (51%), childcare provision (36%) and protecting female athletes from developing eating disorders (34%).

The report found that the organisations that have been most active with respect to working for gender equality are varied. It is a mix of national sport organisations, international sport federations, National Olympic Committees and women and sport organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

The University of Hertfordshire has a strong track record of supporting women to succeed in their sporting careers and helping females to participate in sporting activity. The Hertfordshire Sport and Physical Activity Partnership, known as HSP, is part of the university and hosts the annual This Girl Can in Herts week. This year it has provided more than £4,000 funding to assist initiatives across Hertfordshire in their endeavours to encourage more female participation in sport. These projects appear among over 500 other activities which expect to attract in excess of 3,000 women to get active through the initiative. The HSP has a dedicated Women and Girls Project Officer whose remit is to work with key partners to promote sport and physical activity to all females across the county.

Professor Elizabeth Pike was recently interviewed by BBC Sport about this research.

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