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  • Writer's pictureukactive

Guidance for Gyms and Leisure Centres to Support Safer Spaces for Women.

Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign and ukactive have today (16 May) released new guidance to help fitness and leisure facilities create safer spaces for women and girls to be active.

The latest initiative from This Girl Can has put the spotlight on the Enjoyment Gap experienced by women, with a significant proportion of women reporting safety concerns in its November 2022 survey about exercising in well-lit streets or public spaces alone after dark (65%), non-supervised public facilities (53%), and supervised public facilities (19%). This in turn contributes to an overall trend of women reportedly enjoying exercise less than men.

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey shows gyms and leisure centres play an essential role in supporting women to be active, finding that more than seven million women had taken part in facility-based activities, like using exercise machines or indoor swimming, at least twice in the past 28 days.

However, the survey also found that, overall, women’s activity levels remain lower than men’s, growing by only 1 percentage point last year compared to 2.5 percentage points for men.

Now, a new guide has been produced to help tackle this gender activity gap, called ‘How to make your spaces safer for women: A call to action from the 51%’, which aims to address safety concerns experienced by women while getting active.

It builds on the work set out in the previous guide, ‘How to improve your services for women and girls: As told by the 51%’, published in November 2021, by providing practical steps for facilities to help create an environment where women and girls can feel safer and more confident being active.

A mixed-methodology approach including a survey of more than 900 women conducted by Walnut for ukactive and This Girl Can provides the basis of this new guidance, focusing on women’s experience of sexual harassment and intimidation in fitness and leisure facilities.

While only 5% of female gym users reported feeling ‘unsafe’ concerning sexual harassment and intimidation within facilities, four in 10 (42%) women said they have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment or intimidation in their fitness or leisure centre – such as inappropriate comments, staring, or encroachment of personal space. This almost doubles for those aged 16 to 24, increasing to 83%.

Among those who experienced sexual harassment or intimidation, 76% reported they had changed their behaviour as a result, which varied from changing the time they visited facilities to the way they dressed.

Only around half (55%) of women said that it was clear how to report sexual harassment or intimidation at their fitness or leisure centre, and just a quarter of women who experienced an incidence of this at a fitness or leisure facility reported the behaviour. Over a third (39%) of incidents were experienced in the weights area.

Research shows that sexual harassment is an issue with prevalence across society, with 71% of women of all ages having experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space. It is important that all industries play their role in tackling this issue, and the new guide and research findings will support fitness facilities to create safer spaces so that more women and girls can confidently reap the benefits of physical activity.

The guidance covers a range of practical advice, including the following areas for fitness and leisure facilities to help women feel safer and more confident:

  • Checklists on what a code of conduct should include.

  • Advice on how to communicate existing policies, codes of conduct and reporting procedures to members about sexual harassment.

  • Details on what reporting processes should include and how to make sure they are easily accessible, so all members know how to report harassment and what to expect from the process.

Marianne Boyle, Director of Membership and Sector Development at ukactive, said: “Working with This Girl Can, we continue to seek the views of women so we can support gyms and leisure centres with high quality and reliable insight to ensure women feel safer and more confident when using these facilities.

“There is already a significant amount of exemplary work taking place across the sector to address what is sadly a societal issue. With this guidance, we aim to continue this journey of improvement and to increase women’s enjoyment of exercise by fostering an environment where they feel able to report incidents and feel safe in the knowledge that these issues will be taken seriously.

“Any form of harassment in gyms and leisure centres is unacceptable and we expect operators to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and intimidation.

“The fitness and leisure sector is proud of the role it plays in supporting millions of women and girls to be active, and we all want to make sure that every one of them feels as safe and as confident as possible.”

Claire Edwards, Head of Campaign Activation at Sport England, said: “This Girl Can exist so that all women feel they have the opportunity to be active in ways that they love.

“As is shown by our research, however, we know that more can and should be done to stamp out harassment and intimidation and support women in feeling safe when stepping through the doors of gyms and leisure centres.

“In February, we launched ‘This Girl Can With You’, a call-to-arms to sport and activity providers to dismantle the barriers that contribute to the Enjoyment Gap. This work is a great example of how we are working with the sector to help tackle the barriers that may prevent women from enjoying being active and we are thrilled to be partnering with ukactive to help achieve this.

“Women deserve to get active as much as men – that is why this guide has the power to play an important role in helping gyms and leisure centres tackle unacceptable behaviour.”

To read the new guidance, ‘How to make your spaces safer for women: A call to action from the 51%’, click here.


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