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The enjoyment gap: Millions of women turned off sport due to fear of judgement and safety concerns

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The enjoyment gap: Millions of women turned off sport due to fear of judgement and safety concerns
Fewer women enjoy physical activity and sport than men (Picture: Getty Images)

Ever felt embarrassed stepping foot in a gym? Felt awkward about working out while you’re on your period? Or felt nervous during a jog around the park as the sun starts to set?

You’re not alone.

From showing off our bodies, to being concerned about sexual harassment, there are many reasons why women simply don’t enjoy physical activity as much as men.

The latest research by This Girl Can, Sport England’s award-winning campaign to help women get active, has revealed that 2.4 million fewer women than men strongly agree that they find sport and exercise enjoyable and satisfying.

In a bid to close what they’re calling ‘the Enjoyment Gap’, they’re launching a new campaign phase, ‘This Girl Can With You’, which aims to dismantle the barriers that stop women and girls from enjoying sport.

And with less than 60% of women active compared to over 63% of men, closing the Enjoyment Gap is an important step towards motivating women to take part.

The campaign’s latest research finds that there are 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%).

More than a third (38%) of women also say they have felt judged when exercising.

Safety fears are another significant obstacle. 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. What’s more, two-thirds (66%) worry about other personal safety issues, such as being mugged.

More recently, the rising cost of living has become a barrier, with more than a third (37%) of women saying it has had a negative impact on their ability to be active.

Now, the campaign has identified four areas that need attention in order to close the 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)
  • 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

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.

‘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.

‘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.’

One such organisation is Black Girls Do Run. Founder, Tasha Thompson 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.’

To learn more about This Girl Can and the Enjoyment Gap, click here.

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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