Research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) between 2003 and 2005 found significant gender differences in active and social participation in sport in Ireland. On foot of this research the "Women in Sport Initiative" was launched by the Irish Sports Council in 2005 to increase participation of women in sport. The overarching objectives of the Women in Sport programme were to raise the overall physical activity levels among women and to support women's roles within sports organisations.
Research conducted by the ESRI in 2005 revealed that less than one in five Irish women met the National Activity Guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate/vigorous activity for at least 5 days a week. At the other end of the physical activity spectrum, approximately the same one in five proportion of women were effectively sedentary i.e. played no sport, did not take part in any recreational walking or did not walk or cycle for transport. Given the positive association between physical activity and physical and mental health in particular these numbers represented a significant challenge to the policy system.
Nine years on we have a good chance to assess where we stand in relation to women's participation in sport and physical activity using the results from the Irish Sports Monitor (ISM). The ISM was introduced in 2007 to monitor participation in sport and physical activity among adults and to identify trends in sports participation.
According to the latest results from the Irish Sports Monitor for 2013, almost 1 in 3 women met the National Physical Activity Guidelines through sport while just one in eight women were sedentary. These figures represent a healthy improvement on the earlier results and show that there is now a strong secular trend towards adult women becoming more active through sport and physical activity.
The 2013 ISM also reports that almost 43% of women are taking part in regular sport i.e. at least once a week. This is the highest recorded participation rate for women since the ISM was introduced in 2007 and has resulted in a significant narrowing of the gender gap in participation between men and women. The 43% is equivalent to over ¾ million adult women participating in sport on a weekly basis.
Funding dedicated to the Women in Sport programme is targeted towards programmes rolled out by both National Governing Bodies of Sport and Local Sports Partnerships as the delivery agents for sport and physical activity for the Irish Sports Council. There has been a tremendous amount of goodwill and support for the Women in Sport Programme from both sporting organisations and participants alike.
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