Kicking Gender Inequality Out of School Sports

The End Sexism in Schools team is delighted to support the School Sports Equality campaign launched by Katie Allen – whose experience at school led to her initiating the campaign – Professor Eric Anderson of Winchester University, and the Women’s Equality Party Basingstoke branch. Earlier this month, they issued an open letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, and the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, calling for the adoption of a “new education code mandating equal sport offerings between the sexes”.

Katie’s own experience of school sport was that only boys were offered the opportunity to play football. Data from 288 English secondary schools following a Freedom of Information request by Professor Eric Anderson demonstrates that Katie’s experience is not unusual. The data revealed that many of the top ten activities delivered to each sex are the same, but boys tend to be offered football, cricket, basketball, and rugby union, whereas girls are offered netball, gymnastics and dance.

Katie Allen says: “Gender segregation in school sports perpetuates and increases gender inequality. Football is the country’s most beloved sport – why should girls not have an equal chance to play it? And why should boys who want to dance instead not get the opportunity?”

Stacy Hart, WE Basingstoke branch leader, added: “WE know that kids’ potential is severely limited and their mental health damaged by being put into gender boxes that dictate what they’re allowed to do or who they’re allowed to be.

“Ridiculous stereotypes like ‘girls can’t kick’ or ‘real boys want to play rugby’ are actively harmful to children’s development.”

Currently, the Equalities Act 2010 only stipulates that schools must offer equal opportunities to participate in ‘comparable’ sporting activities. The signatories to the open letter argue that this leaves the matter open to interpretation in a way that can actively impact what sports are offered to school pupils based on their gender.

Commenting on this, Professor Eric Anderson of the University of Winchester said: “What is ‘comparable’ and fair becomes a matter of headteacher’s choice, informed by cultural association of female physical inferiority and male disinterest and thereby perpetuates those stereotypes anew, with the bullying and negative health implications that accompany them for those that transgress gendered norms.”

The letter highlights the following key factors that must be taken into consideration:

1) Gendered expectations of Physical Education inform gendered lives and promote harmful gendered stereotypes.
2) Males benefit from their experience with male-dominated sports in hiring practices.
3) Males who partake in sport alongside females, upgrade their evaluation of female athleticism and leadership skills.

School Sport Equality open letter, June 2021

The proposed new code will continue to permit schools to offer sports “appropriate to their culture and facilities” and will still allow schools to protect children from undue physical risk, noting how structural variables of sexed-maturation can be accommodated, ensuring both children’s safety and that a new code does not impede or complicate PE offerings in schools.

It is envisioned that the code will contribute to more holistically inclusive school sports and the open letter notes that:

“This provision would promote equality of athletic opportunity between the sexes and promote inclusion of non-binary, trans, and intersexed children as well.”

School Sport Equality open letter, June 2021

It’s fantastic to see another grassroots campaign gaining important ground and tackling the pervasive issue of sexism in schools and we wholeheartedly support the proposed code.

You can read more about the campaign here and sign up to the WE Basingstoke newsletter to receive campaign updates here. Please also lend your support and help spread the word on social media by following and sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Jen Eden
Jen Eden
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