Sport as a major area of gender inequality

Sport as a major area of gender inequality

The Sustainable Neighbourhoods Contract is the main mechanism of the regional urban renewal policy. As such, it has financed the creation of various facilities in the capital's neighbourhoods, including sports facilities, for 25 years.

In the wake of the gender mainstreaming commitments made by the Brussels-Capital Region, the regional Urban Renewal Directorate asked Idea Consult to assess the impact of certain facilities on gender.

The participation of women and girls in sport is today still considerably lower than that of men. In 2012, the Brussels sports registry recorded 31% female membership in recognised and unrecognised clubs. The centres analysed in the context of the study show similar results. In three-quarters of centres, the majority of classes are single-sex and male, never by choice, but in practice. Thus, public investments in sports largely benefit the male sex. Girls remain to a large extent restricted to ‘soft' sporting or artistic activities - socio-cultural stereotypes die hard. In the same way that they have a lower public presence in adolescence, when they begin to develop their sexuality, the presence of girls in sporting activities is currently becoming imperceptible. We pass over pay inequality, the slightest under-representation in the media, the distribution of roles in adulthood, which leave women with less time, etc.

Even now, where there are equal rights for men and women, inequality of access, redistribution and value remains.

Our work (enriched in particular by existing studies - all too rare in Belgium, interviews conducted with municipal policy-makers and experts, a study and co-production day with the project managers of sustainable neighbourhoods contracts) aims to bring together levers for action and good practices that will help to improve the neighbourhood contracts process and thereby increase female participation in sport, of which here are some examples:

  • Incorporating the issue of gender when a new facility is being considered both in the organisation of the programme (what type of space to benefit women?) and by establishing objectives for the future life of the site (proportion of female teams, place of women on the staff, etc., mobilisation actions aimed at adolescents via community actors in neighbourhoods, etc.).
  • A key lever is the mobilisation of federations and clubs on this issue, which are major organisers of sporting activities and in particular of activities that are not very accessible to girls. From the age of 12, the vast majority or activities are single-sex only and girls are excluded from participation due to the lack of a female team in their club. The infrastructure and moreover the municipalities that host the clubs can encourage (selective pricing, freeing up of additional time slots, etc.) the setting up of female teams.
  • Stimulating female demand. Today, the timetables of facilities are drawn up for the whole year and partnerships are renewed from one year to the next. The additional demand that will fill the few gaps is assessed on the basis of the requests made to sports services. These requests are largely made by existing structures in which women are in the minority. Accepting risk-taking with respect to groups with no or little structure because they are new, operating on a call-for-proposals basis to free up time slots, keeping time slots free, organising activities aimed at mothers in parallel with activities for their children and organising less competitive ‘family sport or cooperative sport' participation may all make a difference.
  • Monitoring use. Looking at the numbers in order to communicate and highlight the situation and its progression. Also looking at the numbers in order to question timetables that on paper reflect facilities with no free capacity and no opportunities to repeat activities. Indeed, our analysis shows that many time slots that are filled on paper are not filled in practice, or at least not all the time, leaving room for the planning of more female participation in sport.
arrow team members
foto Hélène Guérard
Hélène Guérard
Expert Real Estate & Territorial Development


  • Brussels government