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New guidance to help leisure facilities make safer spaces for women and girls

16th May 2023

The work follows up the 'As told by the 51%' guide that highlighted how gyms and leisure centres could be more welcoming.

We’ve worked with ukactive to create new guidance that will help leisure facilities create safer spaces for women and girls to be active.

Our focus on closing the Enjoyment Gap has come from our survey last year that told us 65% of respondents have safety concerns over exercising in public spaces alone, after dark, as well as 53% having similar concerns over doing the same but in non-supervised public facilities and 19% worried about getting active in supervised public facilities.

This has led to 2.4m more men than women saying they enjoy sport and physical activity, and prompted us to create this new guidance in collaboration with ukactive.

A woman does bicep curls with dumbbells in a gym

The guide – ‘How to make your spaces safer for women: A call to action from the 51%’ – builds on the ‘As told by the 51%’ guide published in 2021 and provides practical steps for facilities to help create an environment where women and girls feel safer and more confident being active.

And with Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey report showing gyms and leisure centres play an essential role in supporting women to be active, our head of campaign activation Claire Edwards knows how helpful this guidance will be.

“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 guidance covers a range of practical advice, including areas for fitness and leisure facilities to help women feel safer and more confident, such as:

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

The advice was produced following a survey on more than 900 women by Walnut, which focused on women’s experiences of sexual harassment and intimidation in fitness and leisure facilities.

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, This Girl Can

It 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 of it – including doing things such as changing the way they dressed or the times they visited the facility.

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.

The weights area of facilities was a particularly common place for incidents to occur, with 39% happening there, and with other research showing 71% of women, of all ages, having experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, 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