The Lionesses Legacy: first steps to equality for girls in PE


Today, on International Women’s Day, the Government has announced more than £600 million of funding which will be invested in school sport over the next two years. The funding will support schools to offer equal access to the same range of sports for girls and boys as well as offer two hours of PE every week. The announcement comes seven months after the Lionesses incredible victory at the Euros, and the campaign that followed to pave the way for girls across the country to have more access to sport. The Lionesses inspired the nation with their demonstration of the joy and freedom of women’s sport. This announcement could be the first step to truly capitalise on their success.

Our CEO Stephanie Hilborne joined BBC Breakfast to discuss the announcement:

We welcome the Government’s commitment to begin to tackle the inequalities that have limited girls’ enjoyment of school sport for so long. We celebrate the recognition that has finally been afforded to the essential value of sport, particularly team sport, for girls. It is absurd that in 2023 we are still not offering the same sports to girls as boys and this new requirement in schools will make huge strides towards changing that.

There's something very special about team sport: that sense of collective, that sense of connection to each other.
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Women in Sport CEO

The magnitude of the achievement that the Lionesses have made lies against the incredible history of women being banned from playing football for over 50 years until 1970. The Lionesses continue the legacy of the trailblazing women who campaigned against the ban and for women’s rights across society, from the 1920s (a time when most women didn’t even have the right to vote) until the ban was lifted and beyond. This IWD more than any, we should be incredibly proud of their determination and bravery.

Whilst the announcement is another step in the right direction, we know that the solutions we need are more complex than just increasing access to sport, as so many girls are not starting on an equal platform with boys. Our research into primary aged girls, launched this week, shows that gender stereotyping starts at a young age. This not only affects how girls view sport but exposes how sport is framed as being of lesser importance for girls by wider society, which impacts how girls are encouraged to develop fundamental movement skills, like throwing, catching and kicking. On entering primary school, boys have a higher physical literacy which perpetuates their perceptions of girls being less able and ‘weak’.

With this in mind, we must question whether funding that is not specifically targeted at girls is the right long term approach to achieving meaningful equal access to sport. It is likely that girls will need more support, and more investment, to be able to truly take advantage of the new opportunities this announcement hopes to give them. This reflects the theme of this year’s IWD – Embrace Equity.

To achieve a real change in sport and beyond, we have to address the inherent societal limitations we are putting on our girls through deep rooted cultural change. This involves supporting our teachers and coaches to understand the emotional and physical needs of girls. It is vital we empower them with the understanding and skills to inspire girls to find their love of sport and activity through high-quality PE delivery.

We must ensure, too, that schools are supported to open girls’ eyes to the full range of team sports. This cannot simply become a way of funding more football for girls – they must have the chance to experience the joy of team sport in all its forms. We must also ensure that girls are listened to, that their needs are prioritised and that we use the huge opportunity that this announcement presents to truly transform school sport for girls.

Because girls belong in sport.