Because Women and Girls Belong in Sport

Impact Report 2023


No-one is excluded from the joy, fulfilment and lifelong benefits of sport

We know that ...

  • Sport can give girls and women resilience, courage, self-belief and a sense of belonging
  • Girls and women can learn vital life skills such as leadership through sport
  • Gender stereotypes and institutional bias are holding girls and women back from sport, and in life

We believe that ...

  • It is wrong to deny women and girls access to sport
  • The distinct physicality of women and girls must be understood and reflected in sport
  • When sport includes women and girls it helps to tackle gendered economic and health inequalities


Is to create lasting positive change for women and girls in sport and society

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, CEO

In 2022, an England football team lifted the European Championship trophy for the first time. In front of a sellout crowd at Wembley, the Lionesses roared themselves into the history books. As the joy (and the champagne) spilled over into Sarina Wiegman’s post-match press conference, we at Women in Sport were wondering what effect this iconic moment would have on the girls and women watching.

The answer is complicated. We discovered that the girls who love and play lots of sport (21% of all girls) were now finally able to dream of reaching the top in similar numbers to boys. But what about the dreams of the other 79% of girls? It’s the other girls we’ve had at the front of our minds this year.

Following our groundbreaking research into the lives of teenage girls and women in midlife, this year we explored the experiences of very young girls to find out why so few fall in love with sport. Why are they being deprived of the joy we saw at Wembley? Girls deserve better, happier childhoods and women too deserve happiness and more years of good health. Sport could be helping to reduce the substantial gendered health inequalities in our society if we only let it.

Girls are not born under-confident. They’re not born un-sporty, either. Society is continuing to surround children with messages and expectations that limit girls’ freedom, inhibit their sport skills and set them up to be sidelined in the playground. We won’t stand for that.

It’s been a brilliant year for the charity as we’ve challenged the norms in society that hold girls and women back, from direct oppression to access to sports bras or parks. We’ve told the stories about why this matters, putting fabulous women in the spotlight and securing high-profile media coverage. Our Big Sister project demonstrated that teenage girls aren’t inactive by choice and that it’s possible for the leisure sector to change its approach.  We’ve also led opinion on critical issues from stamping out misogyny to fair funding for women’s sport.

We’ve worked with brilliant partners and spoken at fascinating and high-profile events. We’ve inspired and created the change we know we need to see if women and girls are to take their rightful place in sport.

5 years old

Girls as young as five years old don’t feel they belong in sport

1.3 million

girls who used to love sport disengage as teenagers


of women who do not meet physical activity guidelines would like to be more active

Our aims

Aim 1

Deeply understand women and girls in all their diversity, at each lifestage

Aim 2

Raise awareness of gender inequality in sport and why it matters

Aim 3

Pilot solutions developing policies and concepts for change

Aim 4

Inspire change through campaigns, collaboration and influence

Aim 5

Ensure the charity is highly effective

Aim 1


Deeply understand women and girls in all their diversity, at each lifestage

At the heart of our work is our research and our insights into the lives of women and girls as they interface with sport.


of parents of girls say their daughter had felt excluded from sport


of girls experience breast pain and discomfort while playing sport, yet just 14% of girls say sports bras are on their school kit list


of girls who love sport now dream of reaching the top, up from 50% in 2020

Whether it’s calling out misogyny in sport or exposing the shocking stereotypes that stop women and girls getting active, no one else is giving these important topics the profile, the attention and the thought that Women in Sport is. As a policymaker, their research and advocacy are hugely valuable to me.”

− Tonia Antoniazzi MP

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Girls as young as five years old don’t feel that they belong in sport

We launched our groundbreaking new study exploring the lives of girls aged five to 11 years old and the impact of early years gender stereotyping. We discovered young girls are internalising gender stereotypes and negative messaging which can make them feel as though there is limited value in taking part in sport and physical activity and the long-term consequences of this can be difficult to reverse. We challenged these attitudes and limiting beliefs to inspire change.

Why sports bras should be the norm

Currently when girls encounter puberty we are not providing for their physical needs. Two in three girls aged 15-18 feel breast pain during school sport, and two thirds of secondary school girls are being limited in their ability to run and jump without pain or self-consciousness as they are not wearing sports bras. Horrifically, only 14% of school kit lists include sports bras. We raised awareness of the need for more guidance about and access to sports bras to protect girls’ breast health and reduce barriers to sport. Athleisure brand Stronger funded this work.

Parks are not inviting, welcoming or safe spaces for teenage girls

Our research looked into the relationship that teenage girls have with outdoor public spaces and getting active. It found twice as many girls as boys feel unsafe exercising in their local park (49% compared to 26%). Working with both Yorkshire Sport Foundation and Cherwell District Council we explored how particular localities can make their parks more suitable for teenage girls, who are currently excluded but deserve to be able to be active in their local area.

We know gender stereotypes hold girls and women back from sport, and in life. In this groundbreaking new study, we explored where gender stereotypes begin so that we can challenge and inspire lasting change for women and girls. We looked at girls’ early experiences of sport, as well as the attitudes and influences that shape perceptions at
this young age.

Whether it’s calling out misogyny in sport or exposing the shocking stereotypes that stop women and girls getting active, no one else is giving these important topics the profile, the attention and the thought that Women in Sport is. As a policymaker, their research and advocacy are hugely valuable to me.”

Tonia Antoniazzi MP

Aim 2


Raise awareness of gender inequality in sport and why it matters

We challenged the culture and system that continues to hold women back and away from sport, and we showcased the reasons why this matters to the lives of women and girls.

Are more girls dreaming of reaching the top in sport?

With the success of the Lionesses at Euro 2022 we wanted to know how this had impacted girls’ ability to dream of reaching the top. A rerun of our 2020 survey found the dream rates among sporty girls had rocketed from 50% to 69%. However, just 21% of girls fall into that category and overall a serious dream deficit remains, with 31% of girls versus 53% of boys dreaming of reaching the top of sport. Stubborn inequalities, ongoing stereotyping and practical barriers to participation for girls remain within grassroots sport. Thank you to Sports Direct for funding this research.

Inspiring women to discover cycling

We campaigned to break down the barriers to cycling that women and girls face. Throughout history, cycling has played a pivotal role in the emancipation of women and yet far fewer women than men enjoy its freedom and advantages in 21st century Britain. Working in partnership with cycling brand, Raleigh, we documented the journey of four women who made it their mission to get back on a bike and challenged the underlying expectations and limitations facing women in cycling.
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Women in Sport – in conversation

Through our podcast we talk to inspiring and influential people about why this all matters, what sport can give you, and the inequalities women and girls still face in sport and in life. A standout episode was with Minette Batters, the first female president of the National Farmers Union, who told us what sport has meant to her and why she thinks sport matters to women leaders. Our podcast was made possible by sponsorship from CSM Live.

Media reach

Our research, insight and opinions carried influence across the media including on Sky News, BBC, The Times and The Guardian, reaching over 325 million people.

Social media reach – 7.2 million

Across all social media platforms our followers grew by 17%

Responding to the Government’s announcement of equal access to sport in schools

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After witnessing their 4-0 semi-final win against Sweden, the England and Arsenal legend Ian Wright asked: ‘If girls are not allowed to play football, just like the boys can, in PE after this tournament then what are we doing?’ Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport, has been campaigning for that sort of legacy for years.”

Deborah Linton, freelance journalist for The Times

Aim 3


Pilot solutions developing policies and concepts for change

The Big Sister pilot

From our sector-leading insight work we knew that teenage girls were not innately anti-sport, so we ran a pilot programme called Big Sister, which inspired 3,000 girls to swim, get into gyms, play football and more. Our fabulous partners, Places Leisure, Places Foundation and Hey Girls, worked in areas of high deprivation to offer free memberships, reach out to girls who leapt at the chance for girls-only sessions and female instructors, and support with managing periods. Girls began to identify with being sporty and 64% enjoyed exercise more.

This project was funded by the government’s DCMS Tampon Tax.

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I got to go swimming loads; my mum has five girls so we can’t afford to go out a lot but with Big Sister we could go all the time. I learned to swim … I wouldn’t have done this so quickly if it weren’t for the free swimming.”

− Grace, aged 11

Our positions

With the strength of our policy positions, we have been working to influence the sports sector on issues around the needs of women in sport and with the Department for Education on school sports provision. These discussions enable us to work towards a place where sport is safe and fair for women and girls.

Our advocacy

Women in Sport has become increasingly influential with policy and decision makers, not just highlighting the inequalities faced but also proposing policies that better support women and girls in sport and life.

Our thought leadership and advocacy for women and girls has led to changes in sports and in government thinking. For example, having submitted evidence to the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket we were pleased to see this thinking reflected in several of their recommendations.

We recommend that the England and Wales Cricket Board and the wider game increase, at pace, the levels of investment in the core infrastructure and operations of the women’s and girls’ game, reflecting the outcome of gender-based budgeting.”

Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket Report

Gender Budgeting

Transgender Inclusion
Duty of Care – Whyte Report
Cost of Living

It has been amazing to be a part of something that has bust the myth that somehow teenage girls just don’t want to exercise. Big Sister was designed with teenage girls to give them a supportive pathway that encourages and empowers them to participate in sport during puberty.

Through this project I have seen first-hand how, with the right support and opportunities, teenage girls are motivated to take part in sport. We can now enable more sport providers to understand the challenges that teenage girls face and help them to create more engaging offers.”

Shereen Charles, Project Administration Officer

Aim 4


Inspire change through campaigns, collaboration and influence


Our annual #TimeTogether campaign inspired teenage girls and their mums and mother figures to find the joy in sport and to exercise together. 48% of girls tell us their mum supports and encourages them to be active. In our largest campaign to date, 20 partners were excited to roll the concept out, including England Netball, Parkour UK, Related Argent and England Rugby. High profile advocates such as Zara Tindall and Hermione Norris showcased the multitude of ways girls and their mum figures can prioritise time together.

Our partnerships

Working in collaboration with partners enables us to help shape a sporting landscape that prioritises women and girls. We have continued to work across the UK with organisations such as the RFU on teenage girls’ experiences, and with Table Tennis England on the experiences of women at midlife. In doing so we continue to support them in identifying effective solutions for change.

Our experience of working with Women in Sport on the evaluation of the Coaching Teenage Girls workshop has been tremendous. The Women in Sport team are open, enthusiastic and genuinely interested in creating a positive impact on the experience of women participating in sport. Their outputs are of the highest quality and the team a pleasure to deal with. We would welcome an opportunity to work with them again.”

Sport Ireland Impact Team



The RFU has worked with Women in Sport for several years to develop our clubs and volunteers. This has included Women in Sport helping us understand the needs and challenges that women volunteers face in historically male-dominated environments, enabling us to provide better support for women and to deliver several webinars to our member clubs. This work has sparked actions at the RFU and our member clubs to improve the experience and attract more women and girls into rugby union.”

Alex Thompson, Volunteer Manager – RFU

Our influence

As a pivotal voice for change, Women in Sport has shared our views and highlighted the needs of women and girls through numerous external engagements and events. In doing so we have cemented our position as a thought leader and have been able to raise awareness of the issues, inspire change across organisations and identify stakeholders who are committed to achieving parity in sport for women and girls. We have spoken at events such as the Soft Power Summit, the Elevate Conference and the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

Women in Sport said the recent women’s sport successes are built on shaky foundations, with ‘stubborn inequalities’, stereotypes and practical barriers, which may be different at each stage of life, disrupting many women’s and girls’ experiences of sport.”

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, DBE, DL

Aim 5


Ensure the charity is highly effective

Thanks to our partners and supporters we can continue working towards our vision, now and in the future. Committed individuals who rally behind our cause, as well as funding partners across business and sport, enable us to make the necessary and meaningful change in sport for women and girls. From donations at funerals to sharing profits from sales of sports kits and taking on marathons through to cycling across countries and rowing oceans, we are so grateful to those that choose to champion the Women in Sport cause.

We couldn’t do what we do without the continued investment of Sport England. In this Impact Report we would also like to thank Vitality UK for its three-year partnership with us, which came to a close this year. It has allowed our charity to rise up. Adanola was extremely generous with donations on International Women’s Day and others have offered considerable work as they rally behind our vital cause.

True to my legal background, I firmly believe in justice and equality. It’s a status quo we are yet to achieve in sport where, even with the progress of recent years, women continue to be treated as secondary.


I chose to advocate for Women in Sport as they share these core values. In an environment where leaders are all too quick to shy away from uncomfortable truths, the work Women in Sport undertakes ensures vital attention is drawn to the cultural and behavioural change needed to develop an equal footing for women and girls in sport and activity.”

Victoria Evans, record-breaking Atlantic rower

Finances at a glance

Income Total £1,315,643
Expenditure Total £1,270,535

Thanks to our partners and supporters


Become a champion for change and be part of the Women in Sport movement, donate today.

A word from our new chair Julia Newton

As someone who has always championed the cause of women’s empowerment and strongly believes in the life-changing potential of sport, Women in Sport’s remarkable work has long been an inspiration to me. This year’s Impact Report demonstrates how hugely respected and trailblazing our charity’s work has become.

I look forward to our 40th anniversary at Women in Sport as we continue our groundbreaking research, considered thought leadership and powerful collaborations. There has been a significant step change in the way women’s sport is viewed in the UK and it’s fantastic to see sold-out stadiums and arenas. There is still a lot to do to ensure current and future generations of women and girls can enjoy the very real benefits and joy that sport can bring to our lives.

Women in Sport, House of Sport, 4th Floor, 190 Great Dover Street, London SE1 4YB.
Registered charity number 1060267 I Registered company number 03075681