"Sport Matters: The Northern Ireland Strategy for Sport and Physical Recreation, 2009-19" proposes a target of increasing the number of women who regularly participate in sport and physical recreation by 6%. This figure is based on the need to close the gap between male and female participation in sport.
A report published by the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation (November 2007), 'It's Time - Future forecasts for women's participation in sport and exercise', forecasts a 5.5% decrease in activity levels by 2017 if the levels of activity continue, which could amount to 1.25 million fewer women being sufficiently active.
- In 2005-06 19% of women took part in regular sport and active recreation compared with 24% of men;
- Under half of women (45%) did at least one session of 30 minutes in the previous four weeks, compared with over half of men (54%); and
- Over 80% of women are not doing enough physical activity to benefit their health.
The report suggests that reversing the trend requires a better understanding of how women participate in sport and exercise, quoting that twice as many men play competitive sports as women and almost six in ten women prefer to exercise rather than to play sport.
Sport is still seen by some as unfeminine, and girls’ earliest experiences of sport are off putting especially PE at school. Other factors were highlighted such as girls feeling self-conscious about their bodies and boys receiving more encouragement to play sport. These factors no doubt influence the most popular activities for women which include:
- Athletics, including road running and jogging;
- Visiting the gym; and
Despite a significant rise in the number of women who think it’s important to be healthy, there has been almost no change in the level of women’s physical activity in the UK in 20 years.
These statistics puts the challenge of raising female participation by 6% as detailed in ‘Sport Matters’ into perspective.
Women and Girls in Sports Policy
In October 2008 Sport Northern Ireland agreed an updated Women and Girls in Sport Policy, through which Sport Northern Ireland will aim to address the imbalance in female participation in sport and physical recreation by ensuring that women and girls have increased access to, and increased participation in, activities, places, events, services and job opportunities within sport and physical recreation.
Sport Northern Ireland Investment Programmes
Data from Sport Northern Ireland investment programmes show an increase in the number of women and girls participating in sport and physical activity.
Figures collated from Sport in Our Community Investment Programme (End of Year Reports 2008-09) report an increase of 41% (15,354) in the number of women and girls participating in physical activity from the figure (6,755) reported in 2006-07. Data reported in the three year Community Sport Programme End of Year Reports demonstrate an increase of 43%, (4,244 to 6,087 female participants) over the lifetime of the programme (2005-08).