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New guidance to help leisure facilities create safer spaces for women and girls

New guidance to help leisure facilities create safer spaces for women and girls

This Girl Can has worked with ukactive to create new guidance that will help leisure facilities create safer spaces for women and girls to be active.

A survey carried out last year found 65 per cent of respondents have safety concerns over exercising in public spaces alone, after dark.

53 per cent had similar concerns over doing the same in non-supervised public facilities and 19 per cent worried about getting active in supervised public facilities.

This led to 2.4m more men than women saying they enjoy sport and physical activity, creating what This Girl Can described as the Enjoyment Gap.

The guide – ‘How to make your spaces safer for women: A call to action from the 51%’ – builds on the ‘As told by the 51%’ guide published in 2021 and provides practical steps for facilities to help create an environment where women and girls feel safer and more confident being active.

This guidance is particularly important as Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey showed gyms and leisure centres play an essential role in supporting women to be active.

Claire Edwards, head of campaign activation, said: “This Girl Can exists 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 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 guidance has the power to play an important role in helping gyms and leisure centres tackle unacceptable behaviour.”

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

This includes:

  • 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.

The advice was produced following a survey on more than 900 women by Walnut, which focused on women’s experiences of sexual harassment and intimidation in fitness and leisure facilities.

Although only 5 per cent of female gym users reported feeling unsafe in relation to sexual harassment and intimidation within facilities, 42 per cent of women had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment or intimidation – such as inappropriate comments, staring or encroachment of personal space – in their fitness or leisure centre.

This figure almost doubles, to 83 per cent, for those aged 16-24 and 76 per cent of those who had experienced sexual harassment or intimidation reported changing their behaviour as a result of it – including doing things such as changing the way they dressed or the times they visited the facility.

Clarity on how to report sexual harassment or intimidation was also an issue, with only 55 per cent of women agreeing it was clear how to report it and just 25 per cent of those experiencing an incident, reporting it.

The weights area of facilities was a particularly common place for incidents to occur, with 39 per cent happening there, and research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for UN Women revealed 71 per cent of women, of all ages, have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.

Marianne Boyle, ukactive’s director of membership and sector development, 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, our aim is 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 totally 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.” 

Heavily tattooed black woman smiling as she sits on a rowing machine in the gym
This Girl Can With You campaign
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