Towards Gender Equality in Sports

Gender equality in sports means that people are able to develop their skills and make choices free of gender-related constraints as participants, competitors, coaches, voluntary workers and decision-makers in the area of sports and physical activities. Equality does not imply uniformity but acceptance of the simultaneously existing difference and similarity between women and men.  From the perspective of gender equality it is important that the different patterns of behaviour, objectives and needs of women and men receive equal attention. Equality or the lack of it is dependent upon time and space.  It varies historically and culturally as a result of human actions.

Equality work in Europe is based upon the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979, the Beijing Platform of Action (1995), the basic treaties, directives and equality strategy of the European Union as well as the basic treaties and recommendations of the Council of Europe.  In the area of sports and physical activities these are supplemented by recommendations of the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe on gender equality in sports as well as the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport (1994). These international commitments provide guidelines for politicians in promoting gender equality in sport on national level.

Gender equality is a current topic of discussion in international and European context. In focus at present is the promotion of women’s advancement into leadership positions in sports organizations. There are three different reasons for this. Firstly, leadership is today recognized as a key component in the quality, efficiency and success of physical culture. Secondly, equality in leadership opens doors for promotion of equality in other areas and levels of activity. Thirdly, progress made in the equality of leadership has been slower than anticipated.

In Finland as well the promotion of women into leadership positions is the main challenge on the road towards equality in sports. As you may read in the adjacent article – as well as in a publication of ours due to be published in English in early 2012 –  the proportion of women as sports leaders has increased, but only slowly. Equality in sports leadership has been promoted in Finland by way of various projects, mentoring, networking, seminars, research programs and quota recommendations. It does seem, however, that in order to achieve even better results old methods will have to be enhanced and new ones created in co-operation with men.

We in Finland encourage other nations as well to promote equality in sports culture and leadership structures. We also wish everyone heartily welcome to share these experiences are learn from each other at the international conference on women’s sport in Helsinki in 2014.


Päivi Aalto-Nevalainen
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs
Ministry of Education and Culture, Sports Division