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Make Space for Us: New study finds parks are not inviting, welcoming or safe spaces for teenage girls

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Posted 14th July 2022

A new study into how teenage girls use parks and green spaces for recreation has found twice as many girls as boys feel unsafe exercising in their local park (49% compared to 26%).

The ’Make Space for Us’ report, commissioned by Yorkshire Sport Foundation and supported by Women in Sport, surveyed 13–15-year-old girls and boys about how they use parks. It was instigated by the charity, ‘Make Space for Girls’, who identified that teenage facilities in UK parks tend to be dominated by boys and young men, and underused by teenage girls and young women. They also highlighted that in the UK there was a lack of research into girls’ use of parks both generally and as places to be active.

With just two in ten girls describing themselves as ‘very active’, and five in ten saying they ‘used to be sporty’ – the study, which centred around parks in Sheffield​, Rotherham ​and Kirklees – looked at what role parks and outdoor spaces could play in reengaging teenage girls in sport and exercise.

Although girls like to go to parks in their spare time, they mainly use parks to socialise (67%), walk (67%) and play on park equipment (45%). Conversely, boys are more likely to participate in vigorous activity including organised sport, bike riding and running.

Many girls are worried about harassment and anti-social behaviour – particularly if boys are present. While parks offer space for activity, the report found that 73% of girls are stopped from being active if people are watching because of the fear of being scrutinised – a concern which is amplified in outdoor public spaces.

Complex barriers and deep-rooted gender stereotypes are affecting girls’ enjoyment of parks. Six in ten don’t feel welcome in parks due to groups of boys dominating space. Alongside that, a lack of toilets and changing facilities fail to meet the needs of girls (78%) navigating puberty. Active spaces and exercise equipment within parks also typically tend to be dominated by boys and young men

Yorkshire Sport Foundation, Women in Sport and Make Space for Girls are calling for park providers to engage teenage girls in shaping the parks and public spaces they live in. Parks need to be redesigned to create exciting, innovative and safe spaces which include everyone.  This will support more teenage girls to be active, enable a life-long love of exercising outdoors, and empower them to lead happy, healthy lives.

Nigel Harrison, CEO of Yorkshire Sport Foundation, commented: “Parks and green spaces should be a safe, welcoming environment for everyone to be active, and this research shows that there is still plenty to do for that to be the case for teenage girls.

“We hope this research can be the catalyst for re-imagining how parks are designed across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, with teenage girls at the heart of that process. Research tells us that teenage years are the time when many girls begin to lose habit of being active that they had when they were younger, due to the many challenges that stage of life presents them with.

“If we make parks more inclusive for teenage girls, then we make them more inclusive for everyone.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, CEO of Women in Sport said: “Parks should be at the heart of communities and give us a chance to be active in natural open spaces on our doorsteps. But our research shows that girls don’t feel they belong when it comes to sport or exercise in parks. Parks and outdoor equipment has been designed through a male lens and caters for physical activity needs of boys and men. These male dominated landscapes are off-putting to girls and many will simply walk away if they don’t see a place for themselves. This needs to change.

“Girls have as much right as boys to enjoy playing sport and taking exercise in parks, yet their needs are being overlooked. As a result, too many are missing out on the joy, freedom and mental health benefits of outdoor exercise.  When we face an inactivity and mental health crisis amongst teenage girls surely we must take action.”

“Across the country, we keep building facilities for teenagers, like MUGAs and skateparks,” says Susannah Walker, co-founder of Make Space for Girls.

“But we have no idea who’s actually using them.  We really welcome this research as the first step in understanding how teenagers use parks and making them work better for teenage girls.”

Swings for older girls (72%), trampolines (70%), mobile phone charging points (66%), female only activities and areas (68%) and improved toilet/changing facilities (80%) are some of the improvements girls feel would enable them to be more physically active in parks.

Read the full report and watch the webinar from 21 July 2022. We ran this session as an hour long insight session, with breakout rooms and a Q&A session at the end.

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