Girlguiding – Written evidence (NPS0074)


  1. Overview

1.1.          As the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, with almost 400,000 young members, and over 100,000 volunteers, our submission is focused on the barriers that stop girls from participating in sport and other physical activity, and our recommendations for encouraging girls and young women to lead more active lifestyles.


1.2.          Girlguiding believes it is important to promote and support girls’ and young women’s access to sport and physical activity as it provides them with a range of benefits, from having fun to improving their health, wellbeing and confidence. We also want to highlight the importance of children and young people learning to be active through play, adventure and other opportunities in their local communities.


1.3.          Whilst many girls show an interest in sport when they are young, they are more likely to drop sport and have lower activity levels than boys in their teenage years. We would like to see a national plan for sport and recreation consider the experiences and needs of girls and young women equally to those of boys and young men. From what girls have told us, their priorities for action to increase equality in sport and recreation are:


  1. Relevant evidence

2.1.          The Girls’ Attitudes Survey is Girlguiding’s annual research project into the lives of girls and young women, aiming to build a comprehensive picture of the emerging needs, issues and priorities of girls and young women today. The survey provides a snapshot of the views of over 2,000 girls and young women from across the UK aged 7 to 21, within and outside Girlguiding. Since 2009, we have covered a range of issues affecting girls from education, wellbeing, aspirations, sport to safety on- and off-line. 


  1. Our response

3.1.          How can local delivery, including funding structures, of sport and recreation be improved to ensure that people of all ages and abilities are able to lead an active lifestyle?


3.1.1.  We encourage expert partners to work with charities such as Girlguiding, as we are able to deliver fun activities to almost 400,000 girls across the country, enabling more girls to become active.


3.1.2.  Going outside to play and have fun can enable children to be physically active so it is important that the creation and development of local play facilities take into consideration the needs of girls and young women and that equality impact assessments should be used when assessing proposals. Our 2020 Girls’ Attitudes Survey shows that the majority (82%) of girls and young women aged 7-21 think that children and young people should be more involved in designing playgrounds, parks and outdoor facilities in their local area.


3.1.3.  Our yet to be published data on play and sport shows that less than half of children aged 6-18 are a 10 minutes’ walk away from a football pitch (43%) or a playground (42%). Just over a quarter have a leisure centre (28%) and a basketball court (26%) close by. Under a fifth have an outdoor gym (19%) or an adventure playground (18%) 10 minutes’ walk away. 1 in 10 children do not have any of these outdoor spaces within 10 minutes of their home. Our focus groups revealed that some teenage girls think outdoor spaces are aligned to boys interests more (e.g. football pitches or basketball courts) and so were less likely to use public spaces and instead meet friends in cafes or went shopping.


3.1.4.  Therefore, we believe children’s voices should be part of planning policy and this should include a diversity of children who live in that local area. Local authorities should ensure that whatever is delivered locally, must take into consideration the needs of girls as well as boys.

‘It’s wrong but sport still seems to be encouraged more for boys than girls, sometimes there are no girls at my park. Only boys’ (Girl, 12)

3.2.          How can children and young people be encouraged to participate in sport and recreation both at school and outside school, and lead an active lifestyle? If possible, share examples of success stories and good practice, and challenges faced.


3.2.1.  In our 2020 Girls’ Attitudes Survey girls told us their choices in sport and PE at school decrease relative to boys as they get older, from nine in ten (91%) aged 7 to 10 saying they have the same choices as boys, to 51% aged 11 to 16, and less than half (40%) aged 17 to 21. Their enjoyment of physical activity, sport and PE follows the same pattern, with 88% aged 7 to 10 saying they enjoy it down to 59% of 11 to 16-year-olds, and 46% aged 17 to 21. Our 2017 research also shows that girls aged 11-21 are not offered the same choices of sport at school as boys are, and this may be discouraging girls from being able to lead an active lifestyle, especially if the sports they are offered do not meet their interests.

‘In PE my male teacher gets the boys to do most of the setting up and treats us like we need the boys to show us how to do everything when we are capable’ (Girl, 11-16, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017)


3.2.2.  We believe all girls and young women should be able to access sport and physical activity outside of school that is easily accessible and fun. This could be in their local park or leisure centres. Activities and programmes for young people should give girls and boys equal opportunities to try and take part in activities and not reinforce gender stereotypes.  Our 2019 research shows that some girls do not have access to the following local facilities:


3.3.          How can adults of all ages and backgrounds, particularly those from under-represented groups, including women and girls, ethnic minorities, disabled people, older people, and those from less affluent backgrounds, be encouraged to lead more active lifestyles? If possible, share examples of success stories and good practice, and challenges faced.


3.3.1.  It should be noted that gender, ethnicity, disability and socio-economic status must be considered within the younger age groups and not just adults, because it’s important that all children and young people have access to opportunities to try different forms of activities which can help them to continue to be active throughout their life. As the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, our answer to this question is focused on what stops girls and young women having an active lifestyle. Our research shows that there are several barriers, and we believe it is important these are tackled, and that girls and young women are supported and encouraged to access opportunities to be involved in sport and physical activity. Our research with girls during lockdown ‘Early findings on the impact of Covid-19 on girls and young women’ shows that 41% of girls and young women aged 11-18 are doing less physical activity than they were before lockdown and this is a concern.


3.3.2.  Gender stereotypes


‘I think girls’ lives would be better if girls felt more encouraged to do sports in school’ (Girl, 11-16, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2018)


3.3.3.  Appearance pressures


‘Not being happy with how I look means I don’t like to play sports’ (Girl, 7-10, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2018)


3.3.4.  Personal safety and harassment


I would go outdoors more in my local area if there was less cat calling’ (Young Woman, 17-21, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2019)


3.3.5.  Lack of women’s sport representation


‘Women’s sport should be more supported.’ (Girl, 13-16, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2020)


3.3.6.  Other barriers


‘I would go outdoors more in my local area if there was a safer way to cross the road’ (Girl,7-10, Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2019)


3.3.7.  Our success stories include:

3.4.          Should there be a national plan for sport and recreation? Why/why not?

3.4.1.  In 2019, we were involved in developing the schools sport action plan to ensure equal choices in sport for girls and boys was included. We would like to see this more effectively implemented. We believe a national plan for sport and recreation should consider the experiences and needs of girls and young women equally to those of boys and young men.


  1. Our recommendations

4.1.          Address the barriers. Girlguiding supports initiatives to reduce barriers to sport and physical activity, including tackling gender stereotypes that affect children from a young age and impact their views of themselves and what they can do, pressures of body confidence, fear and experience of sexual harassment, gender bias in access to opportunities and lack of visibility of women in sport.   

4.2.          Provide equal access. Girlguiding wants all girls to have equal access to sport and physical activity that interests them and meets their needs. Schools should listen to girls to understand what sport and physical activity they would like to do. All schools should ensure that girls are given the same choices in sport at school as boys. We want schools to recognise that there are sports which girls have traditionally not been involved in, and they should actively promote these to girls and young women (e.g. football, basketball). Activities and programmes outside of school should also be promoted equally to girls and boys and not reinforce gender stereotypes. The creation and development of local play facilities should take into consideration the needs of girls and young women and equality impact assessments should be used when assessing proposals.

4.3.          Fund and promote women’s professional sport. Girls tell us they feel there are not enough women role models in sport for them to look up to. We believe the lack of funding for professional women’s sport compared to men’s means that women sporting role models are not visible enough to girls. We want to see media outlets take responsibility for covering women’s sport more widely and respectfully and promoting women journalists. We believe women’s sports should be just as visible and just as celebrated as men’s. More women as visible leaders across the sporting sector would help to change this.

4.4.          A zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. We support girls' calls to tackle the barriers they face to doing sport and physical activity including sexual harassment. This includes schools and other youth sport provision taking a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, through all adults working with young people in sport knowing how to challenge this behaviour and take seriously reports of sexual harassment; high quality Relationships and Sex Education to educate all children and young people about respectful, healthy relationships; and through more choice for girls to do sport and physical activity in girl/women-only spaces such as gyms or swimming sessions. 

4.5.          More women adventurer role models. Currently adventure is heavily gendered with many more men being represented as adventurers than women in TV, film and in print and this sends a negative message to girls and young women about their opportunities in the world. Girlguiding believes that media and content producers should balance the number of adventure shows and features that profile women and men.  


  1. About us

5.1.          Girlguiding is the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, with almost 500,000 members. Thanks to the dedication and support of 100,000 amazing volunteers, we are active in every part of the UK, giving girls and young women a space where they can be themselves, have fun, build brilliant friendships, gain valuable life skills and make a positive difference to their lives and their communities. We build girls’ confidence and raise their aspirations. We give them the chance to discover their full potential and encourage them to be a powerful force for good. We give them a space to have fun. We run Rainbows (4–7 years), Brownies (7–10 years), Guides (10–14 years) and Rangers (14–18 years). Registered Charity No. 306016.


5.2.          The Girlguiding programme gives girls and young women a space where they can be themselves, gain valuable skills, discover their full potential and have fun. We give girls the opportunity to be active through:


5.3.          In March 2020 we launched Adventures At Home, a range of activities online to help children, parents and carers find simple ways to create fun, adventure and boost wellbeing during the current crisis. Activities for Rainbows and Brownies include an adventure map challenge to explore their local area (or at home).


5.4.          Future Girl is our five-year plan to help our girls and volunteers make the changes they want to see in the world. In 2018, over 76,000 girls and 16,000 leaders told us what topics they cared about. Through the Future Girl topics, our members of all ages will explore and act together on the things they really care about. As part of our Adventurers topic, we are campaigning for fun and adventure of all kinds to every girl.


29 January 2021