Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport

Advancing the empowerment, health and overall well-being of women and girls in all their diversity

Why gender equality in and through PEPAS?

Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport (PEPAS) provide tremendous – yet often untapped – potential and opportunities to advance the empowerment, health and overall well-being of women and girls in all their diversity. The physical, psychological, intellectual, social and economic benefits provided by PEPAS to women and girls and the development of societies overall, are increasingly being recognized. PEPAS has the power to mobilize and unify communities across countries, socio-cultural, economic, gender, and political boundaries, and can convey important messages, including on sensitive issues to mass audiences. 

The following global strategies, mechanisms and instruments recognize PEPAS as a key tool for advancing the health, rights and empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity:   

  • The practice of physical education, physical activity and sports was recognized as a human right in UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport. i 
  • The WHO calls for the “strengthening, the development and implementation of programmes and services, across various community settings, to engage with, and increase the opportunities for, physical activity in the least active groups, as identified by each country, such as girls, women, older adults, rural and indigenous communities, and vulnerable or marginalized populations, embracing positive contributions by all people.” ii 
  • UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognize “the ability of sport to drive gender equality by teaching women and girls teamwork, self-reliance, resilience and confidence” in their joint Sport for Generation Equality Initiative. iii 
  • The 2020 UN High Commissioner’s for Human Rights report titled “Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport” highlights that “States have obligations to remove obstacles for women and girls in accessing sport, including social, cultural and economic barriers. To this end, they should address discrimination in sport on the basis of gender, race and other grounds” including by, “collecting data and providing analyses on the structural barriers to access to sport for diverse women and girls.” iv 
  • The 1994 Brighton Declaration and its 2014 successor, the Brighton plus Helsinki Declaration, formulated by the International Working Group (IWG) on Women and Sport and endorsed by over 600 signatories, are pivotal frameworks for advancing gender equity in sport and physical activity. These declarations serve as foundational documents guiding the ongoing efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable sporting environment for women and girls worldwide. v 

While there has been commendable progress with advancing gender equality, gender equity and women’s empowerment in and through PEPAS, with UN partners, governments, national and international sports governing bodies, and other development and community partners across the world pursuing innovations to advance gender equality, significant gaps exist with an urgent need to accelerate progress.v


What does lack of participation and gender inequality in PEPAS look like?

There are many ways to understand the participation of women and girls in PEPAS. Along with gender, intersections of difference, such as, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, geographic location, sexualities, genders, class, histories, can influence how PEPAS is experienced by women and girls. This is one reason why there is no universal experience for all women and girls in PEPAS context. Similarly, there are also many ways that gender inequalities exhibit themselves in various PEPEAS contexts, and how these inequalities are experienced by women and girls. It is essential to consider intersectional differences of women and girls, and the variety of PEPAS contexts and forms of engagement, to better challenge persistent gender inequalities and inform how best to advance gender equality through PEPAS. A sample of persistent issues that help to understand what a lack of participation and gender inequalities in PEPAS look like are provided below. 

Unequal opportunities for girls in sports, physical activity and physical education

Globally, 85% of adolescent girls don’t do enough physical activity. The same level for boys is around 78%. Participation of girls in exercise and sports also declines throughout adolescence. x UNESCO data indicates that 82% of physical education teachers have seen COVID-19 negatively impact participation, particularly amongst girls and children with disabilities. 

In 2016, data from 38 European countries, showed that women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence more than men in sports, and harassers are generally men with power (coach/manager/ health staff). Forms of gender-based violence in sports cover verbal harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, sexual exploitation, physical violence, emotional-psychological violence, economic violence and cyber violence, bullying, peer harassment, and LGBTQI homophobia. xi 

Limited access to employment and leadership

At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, only 9 of the 24 nations had female coaches (37.5 per cent) (Fare network, 2019). xii In 2020, the number of female coaches was 79,310 (28.1 per cent) whereas the number of male coaches was 203,261 (71.9 per cent). xiii Female leadership among National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are only 24.1% with men also dominating sub-committees with a representation rate of 62.2% as measured across the five countries in African Union Sport Council Region 5 (AUSC)2. xiv Data from FIFA Women Football Research 2019 was used with data from the Turkish Football Federation (TFF). In 2018, no female coaches had a UEFA PRO license while 548 male coaches did. xv Across all sectors: women in managerial positions worldwide increased slightly from 27.2% in 2015 to 28.3% in 2019 yet, in 2020, women represented nearly 45% of global employment losses. xvi Job security in sport occupations: In 2017, FIFPRO found that globally, about 47% of women professional football players had no contracts, and contracts were on average only 12 months long. xvii 

Every time I play football, I enjoy it. Football is part of my life. I can play from morning to evening.
We would make a ball out of plastic [bags] and just play … I grew up in a tough family. My mum
didn’t give us that room to misbehave.


Racheal Kundananji, Zambian International Footballer

Gender inequality costs

The global cost of physical inactivity is estimated to be INT$ 54 billion per year in direct health care, in 2013, with an additional INT$ 14 billion attributable to lost productivity. xviii Inactivity accounts for 1–3% of national health care costs, although this excludes costs associated with mental health and musculoskeletal conditions. xix  

Physical inactivity costs the global economy close to 70 billion USD: 54 billion in healthcare expenses and 14 billion in productivity losses. The most recent available global comparative estimates from 2010 indicate that worldwide, 23% of adults and 81% of adolescents (aged 11–17 years) do not meet the WHO global recommendations on physical activity for health. xx 

Empowering women and girls

80% of young women in Europe equate participation in sport with increased confidence and decreased anxiety. Daily physical activity can contribute to reduced obesity and depression by 30%. xxi Being active has been shown to improve brain functioning and increases test scores by 40%. Quality physical education contributes to developing skills and values which build socio-emotional, mental and physical resilience and support critical thinking. xxii 

Through intentionally designed and delivered sport initiatives, safe spaces can be used to engage and support women and girls around different issues, including to provide critical sexual and reproductive health services and address gender-based violence and harmful practices. xxiii  

Gaps in data and monitoring

More action is needed to identify and track progress in media portrayal. Only 18% of surveyed countries had statistics about coverage time devoted to sport coverage in public service media. xxiv Only 6 of 17 countries surveyed in Europe had initiated or supported research in the area of Representation. xxv 89% of countries say physical education is the same for girls and boys, but less than 40% monitor and enforce gender equality policies. xxvi 

Further gaps include; types of data, methodologies, diversity of research disciplines, scope and topics covered; intersectional analyses, research resources and uptake of evidence in policy and practices. 



ii. WHO, (2018), Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world.

iii. UNWOMEN, (2020), Sport for Generation Equality: advancing gender equality in and through sport,

iv. OHCHR. (2020) Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

v. IWG, (2014), Brighton plus Helsinki 2014 Declaration on Women and Sport Adopted during the 6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport in Helsinki, Finland from June 12–15

Vi. Xii. UN WOMEN, (2021), Guidelines for gender-responsive sports organizations,

vii. UNESCO,(2023), MINEPS VII Fit for Life Outcome Document,

viii. UNESCO, (2017), Kazan Action Plan,

ix. UNESCO, (2015), International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport,

x. WHO, (2022),,the%20authors%20of%20the%20study

xi. Ibid

xiii. Ibid

xiv. South African Department of sports, arts and culture, (2023), Women in Sport Report,

xv. Ibid

xvi. The Sustainable Development Goals Report, (2022),

xvii. Fifpro (2017), Global Employment Report Working Conditions In Professional Women’s Football,

xviii. WHO, (2018) Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030. World Health Organization.

xix. Ibid

xx. WHO, (2013–2020)Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization.,the%20challenge%20of%20NCDs%20and

xxi. UNESCO. (2021) Fit for Life. Sport as a cost-effective Solution.

Xxii. UNESCO, (2021), Making the case for inclusive quality physical education policy development: a policy brief,

xxiii. UNHCR. (2022.)More than a Game. The UNHCR Sport Strategy 2022 – 2026.

xxiv. All In: Towards gender balance in sport (2022)

xxv. Ibid

xxvi. UNESCO, (2021), Fit for Life: sport powering inclusive, peaceful, and resilient societies,

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