Nearly two million fewer women than men take part in sport at least once per week and unfortunately, this gender divide stems right back to our schooldays.
A report from Women in Sport highlights that only 7% of girls currently meet the government recommendations for physical activity.
Furthermore, a third of girls age 12-15 in England are classified as being overweight or obese.
Thankfully, all that could soon change.
The new report, titled ‘Changing the Game for Girls: In Action’ makes tried and tested recommendations to help schools quash the gender divide once and for all.
Previous research from Women in Sport found that the gender gap between girls and boys playing sport begins to open at around age eight.
For the past two years, the organisation has run a pilot scheme with the aim of researching new ways to inspire girls to enjoy sport at school well past this age.
Through the pilot, the charity established a network of 25 schools and worked to help them adapt existing provisions to create environments where it became “normal” and aspirational for girls to be active.
They also connected schools with partners, facilities and services in their local communities and helped them to promote local sportswomen as role models.
They found that allowing girls to help shape sports programmes and giving them the opportunity to express their motivations and ideas improved both participation and enjoyment among pupils.
According to the researchers, this was most often achieved by establishing a way to capture the girls’ voices and working with the girls directly.
The pilot also addressed deeply ingrained issues around body image and self-confidence, which research by Women in Sport shows contributes to preventing girls from being more active.
By the end of the pilot, many of the schools that took part reported signs of more positive attitudes towards physical activity, from reduced sitting out in PE lessons to increased taking GCSEs in PE.
They also reported an increase in the number of girls participating in sport outside of school.
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Additionally, the researchers discovered that the positive impact of their efforts reached far beyond the PE department.
Participating schools noted increased concentration and improved behaviour among girls enjoying sport, as well as signs of personal growth such as increased self-esteem.
To ensure girls across the country feel the full benefit of the findings, Women in Sport has now partnered with Youth Sport Trust to launch the next phase of the project.
The organisations will be helping 90 schools around the UK put their findings into practice through a new programme called ‘Girls Active’.
“At Women in Sport, we believe that getting girls active at an early age, ensuring they have a positive, empowering relationship with sport, is the key to them continuing to play sport and stay healthy through their adult lives,” Ruth Holdaway, chief executive of Women in Sport commented.
“Our report demonstrates the potential of sport and physical activity to impact on girls’ wellbeing, leadership and achievement across all aspects of their lives.
“There is an urgent need to articulate these messages strongly to senior leaders, teachers and girls themselves to raise the profile of PE and sport for girls in school.”
“This, we believe, is an effective and long-term way to tackle the entrenched gender gap in sports participation – and a key method to truly transform sport for the benefit of every woman and girl in the UK.”
Commenting on the report, Tanya Joseph, director of This Girl Can told HuffPost UK: “We know that at a young age, girls can become increasingly self-conscious. PE lessons can exacerbate these feelings. It’s therefore no wonder that the gender gap in sport is most prominent among teenagers.
“That’s why This Girl Can is tackling fear of judgement head on. Whatever your age, size or ability, what matters is that you’re doing something positive for yourself, not how you look or what other people might think.”