Empowering girls in sports: Trusts and partnerships unite to shatter barriers and foster Inclusive participation

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday (8 March), the Youth Sport Trust welcomes the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee’s report, published earlier this week,  into health barriers for girls and women.

Youth Sport Trust has sought to find ways to ensure that physical education (PE), sport and physical activity are relevant, motivating and accessible for girls for nearly 30 years, and are delighted to see political leaders joining in calling for urgent action to empower and inspire more girls to be active.

Ali Oliver, CEO of Youth Sport Trust, said: “We know there are many barriers for girls when it comes to taking part in physical activity and sport, but evidence shows that targeted interventions work.

“97% of leaders and 58% of participants on our Girls Active programme in schools felt more confident to take part in sport and physical activity after taking part in the programme, with similar figures reported for increased enjoyment.

“Learning lessons from programmes such as this, providing safe places for physical activity and re-imagining PE to make it a core subject, will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of girls and young women.”

Youth Sport Trust’s annual survey of girls in schools helps people to understand their attitudes, motivations and feelings towards PE and sport.

Worryingly, last year’s Girls Active survey found only 64% of girls said they enjoyed PE, down from 74% in 2015.

Participation remains a concern, with only 45% of girls achieving the recommended 60 active minutes each day. Low participation and enjoyment are a concern, and mean too many girls are missing out on being active leading to poorer physical, social and mental wellbeing.

 More positively, nearly two thirds of all girls want to be more active in school but are restricted by barriers including a lack of confidence, having their period, being watched by others and worrying how they look.

Youth Sport Trust said it is encouraging to see the committee putting forward ideas that can help turn that enthusiasm into participation by removing the barriers that persist.

This includes acting in response to feedback from girls on PE kits, heeding their message that girls want to wear something which is comfortable and allows them to focus on activity rather than body image.

Youth Sport Trust said it echoes the committee’s acknowledgement of the role that PE can play in education around girl’s health and physiology. Their belief is that this should be part of a new vision for PE, focused on developing physically literate children, healthy learners and active citizens, and facilitated by the delivery of a comprehensive PE teacher training programme reimagining the experiences and outcomes of PE.

The committee has also recommended for greater action to target parents in order to reduce gender stereotypes and encourage participation. By providing high-quality, varied opportunities to be active, every girl can be supported to find a passion for movement and enable them to access the enormous benefits that come from being physically active.

The committee’s report also proposes further expansion of the National Physical Activity Task Force. The Task Force’s ambition – to improve cross-government working to increase the effectiveness of policy making and delivery – is one Youth Sport Trust share, and they say getting the right voices around the table is vital.

The Task Force’s initial discussions have been positive, and Youth Sport Trust is pleased that children’s needs have been a focal point.

Liverpool School Sport Partnership (LSSP), a partnership for schools that works strategically with other agencies to promote, develop and enhance PE, sport and physical activity for young people living in the Liverpool area also responded to the report.

Adella Dando, partnerships manager at LSSP, said: “There has been a huge breakthrough in women’s sports, with a surge in public interest that reached peak levels in August 2023 for the FIFA Women’s World Cup final between England and Spain.

“Despite the growing public interest, girls and women still face health barriers in sports and there is a significant amount of work to do to tackle this.

“On Friday, 8 March, in recognition of International Women’s Day, LSSP is supporting schools across Liverpool to facilitate girls’ football sessions as part of the Let Girls Play campaign, an England Football initiative.

“This is just one of the many initiatives we are involved in to help encourage and motivate girls to participate in PE and sports. We deliver a multitude of sessions and workshops that provide girls with the opportunity to access and, most importantly, enjoy sports.

“It is positive to see political leaders championing systemic change, developing targeted interventions and taking action. Through a cross-sector effort, we can inspire, motivate and encourage more girls in sports.”

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