This Girl Can aims to close the ‘enjoyment gap’

Research reveals 2.4 million fewer women enjoy exercise than men

Josie Shand



Enjoyment is one of the biggest motivators for people to take part in sport and physical activity. However, with less than 60% of women active compared to over 63% of men, closing this ‘enjoyment gap’ is an important step towards tackling the gender activity gap. 

To help close this gap and help women and girls enjoy exercise more, Sport England’s award-winning campaign, This Girl Can has launched its latest campaign, ‘This Girl Can With You’. The campaign calls on sport and activity providers to dismantle the barriers that contribute to the enjoyment gap.

The campaign, which was created by long term agency partner FCB Inferno, shows real women exercising. It showcases the groups who are successfully  breaking down barriers to help women in their communities to get active.

‘This Girl Can With You’ will support organisations across the sport and physical activity sector to develop solutions to help drive participation. To support these organisations This Girl Can has tools, tips and ideas to help them get started. 

A brand-new website highlights work that many grassroots organisations and activity providers are already delivering to close the Gap. Four inspiring groups are featured in new This Girl Can films: Black Girls Do Run, Goal Diggers FC, Muslim Girls Fence, and Welcome Gym.

It can be too easy to accept things as the way they are; to not challenge the status quo. That’s not what This Girl Can is about.

Kate Dale, Director of Marketing at Sport England

To kickstart the initiative and close the enjoyment gap, This Girl Can partnered with Olympic gold medallist, Nicola Adams for an interactive boxing experience at Westfield Stratford City in London last month. Passers-by were invited to fight back against the barriers preventing women getting active, by boxing using illustrative gloves and punch bags designed and painted by women’s art collective, Galphabetics.

It is no secret that there is an imbalance when it comes to diverse participation in sport.  Research shows that one in three (33%) women say they feel too tired or don’t have enough energy to be physically active. A sentiment which is echoed by data on motivation and not having enough dedicated time to exercise.

Emotional barriers, the cost-of-living crisis, concerns around safety and lack of confidence were all factors that contributed towards the ‘enjoyment gap’. For example, fear of judgement continues to prevent women participating with over a third (38%) of women saying they have felt judged when exercising.  

There are also fears over safety which is another significant barrier to women enjoying exercise. Over one in five women say they’re concerned about sexual harassment when exercising, a statistic that almost doubles to 41% when exercising outdoors in the dark. 

The impact of Covid on exercise habits

Over a million fewer women now feel they have the opportunity to be physically active compared to pre-Covid-19. These barriers deepened by the disruptions of the pandemic, women are slower to return to activity than men. More recently, the rising cost of living has become a barrier, with over a third (37%) of women saying it has had a negative impact on their ability to be active.

After extensive consultation and research with women from communities up and down the country, This Girl Can identified a number of areas for action. Activities for women must be social (help women feel part of a community), Suitable (meet women’s needs), Self-Affirming (help women feel confident) and Safe (women must feel physically and emotionally safe when taking part).

“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.” explained Kate Dale, Director of Marketing at Sport England, “That’s not what This Girl Can is about. We exist to get women active – and that means we’re here to shout about the enjoyment gap. 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.

She added: “From safety issues to heightened anxiety fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis, the barriers faced by women and girls in 2023 loom large and are deeply embedded in our society. So this is a call to arms; we are rallying the sport and activity industry to join us to close the Enjoyment Gap by making sure activities for women are social, suitable, self-affirming and safe. There are already organisations out there doing brilliant things, and we want to spread the word and have more people join us.”

One such organisation doing the work is Black Girls Do Run. As Founder Tasha Thompson explains: “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.”

The first female boxer to become a double Olympic gold medallist, Nicola Adams, knows all too well the barriers faced by girls and women. “For a long time, there was very little funding in women’s boxing – so much so that the female fighters used to have to share one shirt in tournaments. I always tried to go first so it wasn’t dripping in sweat. I was called all kinds of names as a female boxer and even remember being regularly told to take up another sport or a different career. It’s no wonder there’s such a significant enjoyment gap in the amount of women enjoying exercise, compared with men.

Adams demonstrates the significance a role model can have when it comes to changing the narrative and driving participation. The campaign's aim to empower women and girls of all shapes, sizes and sporting abilities by showing them that there is no “right” way to get active has helped gain over 700,000 of supporters in its community. 

To learn more about This Girl Can please click here. 

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