The Challenge of Gender Equality in School Sports

by Grace Holden

We all remember P.E. in school. The grubby changing rooms, the sports vests that hadn’t ever been washed, the shouting teacher’s ordering us to stop dallying about. All our experiences are different. Me? I went to an all-girls school. My school was all about female empowerment and wouldn’t shy away from talking about female engineers, women in science, women in STEM subjects. So, why, then, was my school so different when it came to sport? 

To give you an idea, the main sports I remember playing throughout my time at school were hockey and netball. Now, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with those sports, but where were basketball and rugby? For a school that prided itself on promoting gender equality, they failed to provide their students with the same opportunities as the pupils in the boy’s school ten minutes down the road. 

Always netball, never basketball

In 2019, Girlguiding reported that just 43% of girls are offered the same options for sports in P.E. lessons and extracurricular sports at school as their male counterparts. So, my school isn’t alone. I suppose the question we should ask is why? Why did no one listen to me when I complained to my teacher at the age of fourteen that we always play netball and never basketball? And why when I got a bit of mud on my trousers did one of my teachers tell me it was ‘unladylike?’ Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. 

Equal opportunity in sport goes beyond our school experiences. On a national level, women’s rugby and football is arguably respected far less and has certainly proved to be less popular with audiences. The F.A. might have revealed they pay female footballers the same to play for England. However, if in 2019, the male football team had won the world cup, they would have got £217,000 in prize money, whilst it would have been £50,000 for tor their female counterparts. Moreover, there are just two women in the top 60 highest-paid athletes in the world.

Let’s teach our boys to dance and play netball too

For women’s sport to be taken more seriously on a national and international level, we need to start making change in schools. Girls and non-binary people need to feel as if they can reach the highest heights and achieve the kind of success that many of their male friends take for granted. They need to be given the opportunities to try all kinds of different sports, as do men. Let’s teach our boys to dance and play netball in schools, too!

Representation in our media is also vitally important in ensuring our children feel important and seen. We need to fund women’s sport just as well as men’s, and we need more women’s football and rugby on mainstream T.V. at prime times. My Mummy is a Footballer, written by Karrine and Jason Bryan, is the antidote we need in a society where female athletes are often denied the respect and admiration they deserve and in which schools favour sports based on our biological sex. 

Positive changes are happening

For all the complaining it might seem like I am doing here, there are positive moves being made all the time. The Tokyo Olympics showed just how many amazing things women can do when they are encouraged to participate in the sports they love. Laura Kenny, track and road cyclist, became the first woman to win five successive gold medals. And Hannah Mills became the most decorated Olympic female sailor when she won her gold. And let’s not forget Sky Brown, who, at the age of just 13, won a skating bronze

If we want to produce more incredible female talent, we need to go right back to schools and change the language and opportunities we give to our children. Luckily, where some schools are failing, students are fighting back again gender inequality in their schools. Basignton student, Katie Allen, started a petition calling for schools to ‘offer all sports to all children.’ And Allen is not the only one pushing for change. In 2019, the Red Roses hosted the Rugby Football Union’s All Schools programme. 500 schoolgirl’s participated in the event, where they received coaching from current Red Roses players.

Schools must take an active role to drive change

One suggestion to improve gender equality in schools sports is to encourage more mixed-gender sports. Not only would this allow girls more equal access to sports, but would also help support non-binary students to feel comfortable in pursuing the sports they love to do, too. But for real change to be made, schools must take an active role in challenging gender inequality in sports and facilitate a supportive, nurturing environment where a child of any gender feels they can participate in any sport of their choosing.

Take a look at our selection of stereotype busting books such as My Mummy is a Footballer 

 

Grace Holden is a recent Creative Writing graduate, having completed her degree at Falmouth University in 2021. She is now working as a writer, whilst studying for her master’s degree.

 

Photo credit: Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash