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Guidance to help make leisure facilities safer for women and girls

The advice comes as This Girl Can continues to focus on closing the gap between the number of men and women who enjoy getting active.

16th May 2023

This Girl Can has teamed up with ukactive to produce guidance for leisure facilities on how to make women and girls feel safer while getting active.

As part of the award-winning campaign’s latest focus on closing the ‘Enjoyment Gap’ and building on 2021’s guidance on how to make leisure facilities more welcoming for women and girls, this guidance turns the attention to making safer spaces to get active.

Based on a survey by Walnut of more than 900 women that showed 42% had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment or intimidation in a leisure facility, the guidance gives practical advice to facilities on how to help women feel safer.

A woman squats using a barbell in a gym

And for Sport England’s head of campaign activation, Claire Edwards, this worrying statistic is exactly why the guidance was produced.

“This Girl Can exists so that all women feel they have the opportunity to be active in ways that they love,” she said.  

“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 Walnut research found that while only 5% of female gym users reported feeling unsafe in relation to sexual harassment and intimidation within facilities, 42% 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%, for those aged 16-24 and 76% of those who had experienced sexual harassment or intimidation reported changing their behaviour as a result – including doing things such as changing the way they dressed or the times they visited the facility.

“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.”

Claire Edwards

Head of campaign activation, Sport England

Little more than half (55%) of women agreed that it was clear how to report sexual harassment or intimidation at their fitness or leisure centre, though, with just 25% of those experiencing an incident, reporting it.

And with the weights section being a particularly common location for incidents to occur (39%), the guidance gives advice on how leisure facilities can help improve this.

The includes:

  • checklists on what a code of conduct should include
  • details of 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.

Other research by The United Nations also shows that 71% of women, of all ages, have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, and ukactive’s director of membership and sector development, Marianne Boyle, hopes more industries can play their role in tackling the issue.

“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,” she said.   

“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.” 

Find out more

Read the guidance

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