Nationally, women’s participation today is in crisis: less than one in five women (19%) do enough exercise to benefit their health. While the difference in women’s and men’s participation overall is only 6%, the gender gap is widest among the youngest age group: from the age of 11, girls’ participation starts to drop off. By the time they leave school, young women are almost half as active as their male counterparts.
Broadly, there are two different types of barrier to participation: practical barriers and psychological barriers. Practical barriers include the types of activity available, cost of participation and flexibility of timing. The psychological barriers include low body confidence and a belief that sporty, or even fit, women are neither feminine nor aspirational. SitC participants put these issues into their own words
The SitC women were in the midst of a busy period in their lives. Whether starting a new job, continuing their education, or starting a new relationship, sport and activity often becomes a victim of a lack of time or money. For those women who left school still enjoying sport, practical barriers often meant it was difficult for them to retain their passions. In particular, the women mentioned the difficulty of organising team sports out of the school environment. Participants described how men seem to find it easier to turn up and play casual football in the park, whilst it is much harder to organise a group of women to play hockey or netball in a casual but regular way.
Participants had varying experiences of physical activity. Some had taken part in exercise at school and enjoyed it but then dropped out when they left school or university. Others disengaged much earlier. School left a lasting impression with participants describing how PE had tainted their view about sport and fitness generally.
Many women who described themselves as not sporty felt they were the last in line, with teachers focusing on their ‘sporty’ classmates. There was a sense that you were either ‘sporty’ or ‘brainy’ and that you made that choice early in your school career – and you definitely couldn’t be both. Consistently, the participants talked about the embarrassment and lack of privacy in school changing rooms, and the ‘horrible’ PE kits.
This bears out recent WSFF research that found 23% of women say school PE put them off activity for life.
Editor's comments - [ Sweat in the City (SitC) was a research project designed to win a better understanding of how to motivate women to become more active. Today, 16 year-old girls leave school half as active as their male counterparts, often with a negative attitude to sport and fitness and with critically low levels of confidence. This programme set out to create a fitness experience that would appeal to this audience, change their attitude to exercise and lead to a more active and healthier way of life. ] Reference this?Cryer, J. (Year). This page title in italics. Retrieved date, from <this page's full URL>
In the text: Cryer (year)
Reference : WSFF. (2009). Sweat in the City: How 2000 young women discovered the positive power of exercise. London: WSFF
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