Today, October 11, 2012, is the first ever International Day of the Girl.
It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the athletic achievements and contributions of women around the world, but it also gives us a chance to consider one of the athletic world’s more troubling stats: girls are well behind boys in terms of physical activity.
In thinking about how we can do a better job of including girls in sports – and why we need to – here are some things to think about.
A number of factors discourage female participation in sports
According to a June 2012 Women’s Sports Foundation article, girls are twice as likely as boys to drop out of sports by age 14. The article cites lack of access, safety and transportation issues, social stigmas, decreased quality of experience, costs, and lack of positive role models as the main factors keeping girls out of sports.
Many of these reasons are not readily apparent. Did you know that according to 25 years of Women’s Sports Foundation research, high schools offer girls 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than they do boys?
Girls miss out on a number of social, educational and health advantages by being excluded from sports
Girls stand to gain a lot from physical activity. Citing research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, KidsHealth.org lists a number of ways sports and physical activity benefit girls in other areas of their lives:
- it gives the means to do better in class
- it teaches life skills
- it improves self-esteem
- it reduces health risks, namely breast cancer and osteoporosis
This problem has solutions; some people are already seeking them
The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity is one of the groups working to make physical activity more inclusive of women. Its On the Move campaign believes after-school programs offer one way to accomplish this.
We can also look south of the border for examples of how policy makers can help make sure girls and boys have equal opportunity in sports. In the United States, Title IX was implemented in 1972 as legislature guaranteeing equal funding for men and women in federally funded sports. Forty years later, at London 2012, the United States sent more female than male athletes to the Olympics for the first time.
Girls need physical literacy
Canadian Olympic medalist in freestyle skiing Jennifer Heil is a known voice for greater female participation in sports. She’s also an advocate for physical literacy. In a recent Globe and Mail article, she writes that offering girls the opportunity to engage in a wider variety of sports – the same opportunity boys get – is just one of the keys to closing sport’s glaring gender gap:
When the Olympic Games conclude and amateur sports coverage recedes into the background only to be replaced by more male dominated professional sports, I am wondering how we are to ensure that girls have the inspiration required to continue participating in activities that will see them become active for life? A multifaceted approach is required that begins with a different narrative in which being feminine and being athletic are congruent, where photoshop gets eliminated from the media and where girls are exposed to a variety of sport skills at a young age so that they may gain the competency and confidence to remain active throughout their lives.
This is part of Heil’s new approach for girls in sport.
There are lots of reasons to celebrate
Every daughter is a reason to celebrate International Day of the Girl. Mark the occasion by taking your daughter to the park or to the swimming pool. Show her how to kick a ball and let her show you how fast she can run. Revel in the joy of movement together.