According to the World Health Organization (WHO), many women suffer from "disease processes that are associated with inadequate participation in physical activity", such as cardiovascualr diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and breast cancer. WHO also notes that physical activity is associated with improved psychological health "by reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depression" and can contribute to building self-esteem and confidence.
The WHO highlights a number of reasons for physical inactivity of women: Women often have lower income than men, which may represent a barrier to access to physical activities (PA). Women's workload in the home may limit the time available for leisure and thus for PA. Women may have limted mobility to travel to PA faclities. Cultural expectations may restrict their participation in some form of PA.
The fourth World Conference on Women and Sport held in May 2006 listed a number of recommendations for boosting women's sports participation. These range from making physical education compulsory - and fun - for all young girls, encouraging older women to participate in sport and raising awareness of women from ethnic minorities in sport to breaking out of gender stereotypes in our thinking and actions.
The UK Womens's Sports Foundation (WSF) thinks that sportswomen involved in the production of sports media are under-represented in all forms of media and this is a real concern for those trying to increase the visibility of women's sport. "Television, radio and the print media play a central role in informing our knowledge, opinions and attitudes about women and sport. This is achieved through both the amount of coverage and the language used. The media can play an important role in raising the public profile of women's sport," argues WSF.
Dr Katrin Petry from the German Sports University in Cologne, told EURACTIV that a big issue - under the heading 'social inclusion' - is that leading positions in sports organisations are 99% dominated by men, leaving women without role models. "The issue of gender stereotypes is also critical, especially when you look at the representation of women in the media (TV, press, etc.)", she added, also referring to "the role conflict of women in traditionally male sports" (e.g. soccer, boxing etc.).
Dr. Heike Kahl, from the Deutsche Kinder und Jugendstiftung, told EURACTIV that "big sports associations and lobbyists often are not the right players if you are looking for innovative developments." She said it would be better to look into organisations where children really spend their time, such as schools. Kahl thinks that there should be women-only sports federations and minimum quotas for women running sports federations. Her view is that girls need their own space to develop self-confidence.
Tilo Friedmann, from the EU Office of German Sport, told EURACTIV that "sports organisations are aware of promoting the role of girls or women in their structures. There are a lot of examples, from local initiatives such as GIPAS (Girls Participating in Sport – a project run by the Austrian ASVÖ sports federation [short for Allgemeiner Sportverband Österreichs] up to the International Olympic Committee's programme for the promotion of women sports leaders
Liese Prokop, from the European Women and Sport Working Group, told EURACTIV that the European Parliament resolution on women and sport calls for EU financial support for the EWS, something that "would be more than welcome". She says that the EWS needs support and close links to the European institutions to set up professional structures and be able to pursue its strategies to promote women and girls in sport.