If you are following us at Sport Watch it is likely that you are already fully aware of the #ThisGirlCan campaign launched this week by Sport England. This national television and visual campaign is designed to address women’s significantly lower levels of participation in sport and physical activity than men in England. That’s a whopping 2 million fewer girls and women active in sport regularly. So far, so public health message – we know both women and men across the UK need to increase their levels of physical activity.
But the ground breaking element of this campaign is that it is doing this by challenging some of the accepted ‘cultural norms’ that Sport England’s research identifies is preventing girls and women from taking part in more exercise. According to #ThisGirlCan 75% of 14-40 year old women want to exercise more, but it is the fear of judgement that is stopping them. Be that judgement for being sweaty, for their appearance or for spending time on exercise over other things such as family responsibilities. And lots of women are feeling judged, Sport England CEO Jennie Price says,
“Every single woman I have talked to about this campaign – and that is now hundreds – has identified with this, and it is that fear of not being ‘good enough’ in some way, and the fear that you are the only one who feels like that, that we want to address.”
There has been some controversy this week about to what extent the campaign challenges norms and for some the campaign has been labelled patronising for use of the term ‘girl’, or even buying into the sexualisation of women’s bodies. But the overwhelming response to the campaign on twitter and in the media has been massive and positive. The advert is fun and motivating, as one commenter put it, “a high energy ball of liberation,” with built in Missy Elliott. It was great to see women of different appearances and shapes – a feature too often missing from our screens and for this and pointing out the judgement issue on mainstream television, the campaign is ground breaking.
But honestly, I missed the launch on Monday during Coronation Street because I was in a spin class, but then that kind of underlines the point of this campaign – it’s not targeted at me, or at the many other girls and women who are already active and celebrating the launch this week. Real impact will have to be judged on whether we see more girls and women being active in the UK. For that to happen we need National Governing Bodies, sports industry providers, schools and public authorities to not just support the message and film on twitter but put in place the provision and support that will turn the tide for many more girls and women in terms of sport. This is a real opportunity – and needs to be grasped to see results!