Women’s Sports: Why some sporty women feel unsafe in public spaces

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A 2016 study found that 63% of women feel unsafe in public places.

Furthermore, a Runner’s World survey found that 43% of women experience sexual harassment when running compared to 4% of men. These figures are alarming but highlight the need for women to feel safe.

There is a misconception that when women are exercising, they are not as dedicated as men.

Therefore they should anticipate interruptions, especially if they are at the gym engaging in floor activities and stretches like squats, or wearing tight leggings. Believe it or not, women who attend the gym and go jogging are doing it for the same reason as men – to get fit. 

Jogging, I have experienced different scenarios of unwanted attention. I once was called over by a man, touching his private parts in an area of London at the age of 15, which completely horrified me.

A man approached me on another occasion and asked for my number, to which I refused. He then proceeded to tell me that I was rude, and I should have been more careful because he could be a murderer.

These incidents are not just isolated to my experience but happen to women regularly in places across the world.

In 2016 Erin Bailey – a fitness coach from Boston, USA – wrote a heartfelt article titled “What do we deserve,” speaking out against sexual harassment while trying to get fit. The 25-year-old fitness coach described herself as 5’8″ tall and weighed 132 lbs with dark brown medium length hair and green/hazel eyes. 

“I’m flat-chested, and the curves I have are built by hours, months and years I spent working in the gym,” Erin said.

Like Erin, what we wear to train is what makes us feel comfortable, but again as women, we sometimes have to justify what and why we wear what we wear to train — leading to women like Erin and myself justifying our choice of gym clothes.

Occasionally, some may say, we attract attention by what we wear. But isn’t the question about – why do we need to justify ourselves for trying to do what we love?

As women exercising outside or training in the gym, these are areas we sometimes consider as safe zones — places where we can feel empowered to better ourselves without judgement or interruption. 

GMSW Erin

However, for some women going to the gym can be nerve-racking. They may feel too intimidated to go to the gym. This is down to it being a masculine atmosphere where women fear being judged by others.

There’s a right way to approach a female, exercising. A woman who has headphones on does not want to be interrupted; neither does she want to be watched, as this may make her feel anxious and uncomfortable.

Body language such as making direct eye contact on more than one occasion and an open, relaxed body posture may mean it’s okay to approach her.

The best time would be when she has finished exercising or has taken a break, not when she is deep into her workout. The women that go to the gym, jog and do other forms of exercise deserve respect and should not have to feel concerned about unwanted attention.  

We have to do more to help stop these harassments across the board.

This is an issue for all to be concerned about as an estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 – 59  have experienced domestic abuse in the last year. Doing more to empower is to know and appreciate the confidence it takes for women and girls to get out and exercise.


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