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November 6, 2023 | Sarah O'Flaherty

Women’s Night-time Exercise Deterred by Fear of Harassment: A Call for Safer Spaces

As the night falls, the fear of sexual harassment looms, deterring women from engaging in outdoor activities. Recent research unveils that nearly two-thirds of women express concerns about their safety when being active after dark, indicating a pressing issue that affects their participation in physical exercise.

The threat of sexual harassment has become a significant obstacle preventing women from partaking in outdoor exercise during the evenings. According to a survey conducted by Censuswide for the This Girl Can campaign, findings revealed that almost half of the 1,000 women surveyed expressed discomfort exercising outdoors after dusk. Nearly half also admitted to altering their outdoor exercise routines during the darker months, signalling a shift in behaviour due to safety concerns.

The survey further highlighted that 60% of women are worried about the potential risk of sexual harassment or intimidation when engaging in physical activities after sunset. The palpable fear of being targeted in these circumstances has led to a decline in outdoor exercise, particularly as the winter season sets in.

To draw attention to this issue, female runners gathered in central London for a campaign, aiming to spotlight the challenges they encounter in pursuing outdoor physical activities in the darker hours. Kate Dale, Director of Marketing at Sport England and This Girl Can, expressed concern about the impact of safety concerns on women’s overall well-being and health due to decreased physical activity levels.

Addressing this issue requires collective effort and action from various sectors. A recent parliamentary roundtable discussion identified key areas for making sports and physical activities safer for women. These included educating about respect for women, creating proper reporting mechanisms for misogynistic behaviour, and planning public outdoor spaces collaboratively to ensure women feel secure.

The mission is not just about ensuring safety but closing the “enjoyment gap” between men and women in exercise. By empowering society and activity providers to create safe, inclusive, and enjoyable spaces, campaigners aim to encourage and enable women to partake in physical activities without the fear of harassment.

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