Women and girls 'still face too many barriers to participating in sport'

Harassment, safety fears, and negative body image are some of the barriers identified by the committee.

Scottish Government committee finds women and girls still face too many barriers to participating in sport iStock

Women and girls still face a huge number of barriers to participating in sport and physical activity, an inquiry has found.

The Scottish Government’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee says the evidence is clear this leads to reduced numbers of women taking part in sport and physical activity throughout their lives.

Facing harassment or abuse while exercising, fears over safety, negative body image amplified by social media and the lack of coverage of female sport are just some of the barriers identified by the committee which impact rates of participation by women and girls.

Other barriers identified include childcare and other caring responsibilities, and a lack of understanding about the impacts of pregnancy, menopause and menstruation on women and girls’ ability to participate.

The committee said it is concerned by extensive evidence of the harassment and abuse girls and women can be subjected to while exercising and believes there needs to be a zero-tolerance approach towards tackling this behaviour. 

It has called on the Scottish Government to set out plans to ensure considerations of personal safety for women and girls are properly integrated into the design of sport or physical activity facilities.

The report also says that negative attitudes of boys continue to create a major barrier to girls’ participation in sport and physical activity, particularly during adolescence.

While the committee is encouraged that coverage of women’s elite sport has increased substantially in recent years, it says much more needs to be done.  It is calling for a focus on increasing coverage of women’s elite sport outside the window of major international tournaments and on broadening coverage to include a wider range of sports and a greater diversity of women in elite sport.

The inquiry added that social media can have both a positive and a negative impact on girls and women’s attitudes to sport and physical activity. 

It wants the Scottish Government to work closely with the UK Government to ensure that, through implementation of the UK Online Safety Bill, social media companies can be issued with comprehensive guidance and codes of practice that address the harmful impact of negative body image content and misogynistic abuse on social media.

This should include strong sanctions against those companies that persistently fail to regulate such content on their platforms.

Clare Haughey MSP, the committee’s convener, said: “Our extensive report has revealed the many and varied barriers that women and girls face in participating in sport and physical activity, which can have profound negative repercussions for their long-term health and wellbeing.

“Statistics show that female participation in sport and physical activity in Scotland is lower than that of males from the age of 11 years old, with typically a 10% gender gap in participation. Quite simply this is not acceptable.

“Whether it’s due to fears over safety, suffering harassment or abuse, stereotyping, or a lack of understanding of the specific needs and health issues that women and girls face, it’s clear that there are too many barriers standing in the way of women and girls.”

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