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We need to keep pushing

On International Women's Day, our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth blogs about the work we're doing to help close the gender gap in activity levels.

08th March 2022

by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

It’s 2022, and despite the progress we have collectively made, the gender gap for sport and activity persists. 

The disruptions of the pandemic have not helped; our latest Active Lives survey found that there are more than a quarter of a million fewer active women than there were the year before, with women’s activity levels slower to recover than men’s.

And the gender gap starts at a very young age, with nearly two thirds of girls (64%) having quit sport by the age of 16 or 17.

That means millions of women are missing out on the physical, mental and social rewards of getting active.

Tackling inequalities is at the heart of the our 10-year Uniting the Movement strategy, and this issue remains a major inequality for us to confront. But, as with all challenges, we are determined to understand the barriers to participation and remove them.


worry about their personal safety in relation to doing physical activity and exercise

It’s this focus on listening and finding solutions that drove Sport England to create the ground-breaking This Girl Can campaign back in 2015.

We set out to identify the barriers stopping women from getting active and inspire women to have the confidence and opportunity to overcome them. 

Our research found some common themes that were obstacles for women in 2015.  While the campaign has had far reaching and lasting positive impact, sadly they still persist for some women in 2022. We need to keep pushing.

Fear of judgement, a lack of confidence and not having enough time – these are the practical and emotional pressures that can stop women from being more active.

A barrier that has come into sharper focus over the past year – as violence against women has shot to the top of the public and political agenda – is women’s fears for their own safety.

As such, we’ve been examining how this contributes to the gender gap in activity.

Our recent research found that one in five women (22%) worry about the risk or threat of sexual harassment in relation to doing physical activity and exercise. This rises to 38% of those aged 16-20 and over a third of women (35%) aged 21-3. And more than a quarter (28%) agree that they worry about ‘personal safety’ (excluding sexual harassment) – such as exercising outside in the dark.

As with all challenges, we are determined to understand the barriers to participation and remove them.

What this research tells us is that women are being denied their right to participate fully in public life – which is undoubtedly contributing to the gender gap in activity.

As a man I find this shameful and am fully committed to doing what I can to help us all deal with it head on.

We want to examine the root causes of women’s safety fears and aim to challenge and change the culture that causes women to feel intimidated.

Our goal is for all women feel safe in any space they’re getting active in – be that going out for a run in their local park, a city walk, using their local pool or leisure centre.

We’re working with our partners to create environments that both are safe and supportive for women.

For example, later this year we’ll be publishing updated leisure facilities guidance that help providers – e.g. gyms and leisure centres – create environments that meet women’s needs. This will be in addition to the ‘As told by the 51%’ guidance This Girl Can, working with ukactive, published last year. Facilities that are accessible, welcoming and, above all, safe, are key to participation.

Alongside this work, celebration and fun remains the soul of This Girl Can.

The gender gap


More than one in five women worry about the risk or threat of sexual harassment in relation to doing physical activity and exercise.

The campaign has used joy to inspire women and girls to find the confidence to get active on their own terms. We’ve challenged conventional ideas of what women exercising look like and connected with women of all backgrounds, abilities and ethnicities.

And we continue to invest heavily in getting all women active – through amazing projects like This Girl Can classes, Studio You, and a fantastic partnership with parkrun for International Women's Day 2022.

Our strategy is all about making playing sport and getting active a normal part of life for all of us.  We know that being a woman can be feel like a barrier to getting active – but, equally, we know it shouldn’t be this way.

So far, This Girl Can has inspired nearly four million women to engage with exercise and moving in their own way – no matter how they look, or how well they do it.

#BreakTheBias is the theme of International Women’s Day 2022, and I can say with great pride that This Girl Can has been breaking the bias, tackling inequalities and shaking things up for more than seven years.

But until the gender gap in activity is gone, This Girl Can will keep challenging norms and championing women and girls’ activity in all its guises.

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