A young Muslim girl and a young white boy playing football together at school

Addressing Health Barriers for Girls & Women in Sport


The Women and Equalities Select Committee has published its latest report: Health Barriers to Girls and Women in Sport. 

Women in Sport gave oral evidence to the Committee and we welcome the publication of the report, which makes valuable recommendations across girls and women’s lives including: alt=""

  • Action to tackle gender stereotypes 
  • Reducing the enjoyment gap, so more girls are able to fall in love with sport
  • A focus on education, ensuring that female health issues – including the menstrual cycle – are widely taught and understood
  • A call to government and the sector to do more to support women in midlife and menopause, building on work Women in Sport has already done


Recognising the reality for women and girls 

We welcome the importance placed in the report on the impact of both gender stereotyping and female physiology on young girls, and the recognition that they face specific challenges as a result.  

Our research shows that gender stereotyping undermines girls’ sporting lives from a very young age. Girls are told that they are delicate and should be kind and careful not to get dirty, rather than brave or daring. These limiting expectations mean that girls are exposed to less physical activity from an early age, which leads to a disadvantage in skills development. As girls get older, they continue to hear the same underlying narrative about their relationship with sport, but they hear it louder and from more voices. This can be exacerbated by gender stereotyping being reinforced, often subconsciously, by teachers, parents, coaches and peers.  

On top of this comes puberty. Female puberty can be a shocking experience. The physical changes of female puberty are substantial and can create barriers without the right support.  It’s unacceptable that only 51% of schools in England are teaching the menstrual cycle. It’s time we stopped expecting girls to manage these huge changes to their bodies on their own, in the dark, without support or access to the information they need. It’s no surprise that 71% of girls avoid exercising during their period. Woman doing a pilates class

Kit is also a vital issue; for women and girls involved in grassroots, school and community sport as well as elite sportswomen. We agree that sports brands should do more to develop their female specific offering, especially around specialist kit like football boots. We also agree that schools should do more to ensure girls are wearing kit that they feel comfortable in for PE, including sports bras. Our research shows 56% of girls experience breast pain when exercising whilst only 14% of girls say a sports bra is included on their school PE kit list. We believe that sports bras should be part of a school’s PE kit list as standard. 

We also welcome the recognition of the specific barriers faced by women in midlife and menopause. Our research shows that women in midlife feel largely ignored, invisible and irrelevant, and this is particularly true when it comes to sport and exercise. Yet sustaining fitness and activity levels for women of this age has such life-changing benefits in relation to happiness, mental wellbeing and physical health, now and into later life. We stand ready to work with government and other stakeholders, as the report suggests, to identify what more can be done to support women in this life stage. 

50-50 representation 

“There has been a slow and disparate response to disproportionately high rates of ACL injury in women’s football. We have no doubt that a health issue of similar magnitude affecting elite male footballers would have received a faster, more thorough, and better coordinated response” 

white girl in an orange bib kicking a football at a goal

It’s unacceptable that, in 2024, just 6% of sports research has female participants. Initiatives from individual sports and academic institutions to tackle this are welcome, but the report is right that a more joined up approach is needed. The establishment of a cross-sector taskforce to drive this would be welcome. Embedding kit into these discussions would also be positive. As a sector, sport must do more to tackle the female specific injury and health issues that women and girls at all ages are facing. 

Developing the knowledge of women’s health amongst coaches is a key part of this. We should not forget the importance of recruiting, retaining and developing more female coaches as part of this.  

Stamp out misogyny, bullying and harassment  

Women in Sport have been dismayed, but not surprised, by the many serious allegations of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, and misconduct in the sports sector that have been recently reported. We salute the bravery of those who have come forward to share their stories and recognise the long-lived emotional and sometimes physical toll this takes. The majority of the victims of abuse covered by the media in recent years have been women or minors at the time of the abuse. These publicised cases cannot be dismissed as “one-offs.” They are indicative of a structural and cultural problem in sport, as the report says. 

We need to see an independent regulator for sport to tackle abuse, bullying and harassment. We also need to see organisations across the sector – and beyond – embracing anti-misogyny policies and training.