During my St David’s Day debate speech last week, I spoke about my passion for empowering women and girls through sport, because sport changed my life.
I’ve been blown away by the response I’ve had to that speech, so on International Women’s Day, I wanted to elaborate more on this.
I have always seized the opportunity to talk about my rugby playing past, because I want women and girls to hear about it and allow themselves to think that it’s a possibility for them. Playing rugby not only afforded me the chance of representing my country, but it also allowed me to travel to places like Italy, and it allowed my confidence to develop. This is what I want for all women and girls. Regardless of ability, sport can help us grow.
I was saddened to read the latest research from Women in Sport recently, which states that 43% of teenage girls who once considered themselves sporty are disengaging from sport following primary school due to lack of confidence, self-belief and opportunities - compared to just 24% of boys.
Women in Sport are pushing for a change in how we understand teenagers’ participation in sport. Teenage girls and boys have different experiences and therefore require different solutions. Using Women in Sport’s principles for success is just one way we can re-engage teenage girls.
There are initiatives out there looking to change the status quo. In Wales, we have #FelMerch, from Urdd Gobaith Cymru. #FelMerch is supported by Sport Wales and aims to inspire, support and empower young women and girls to keep active, and break down the barriers that are preventing them from doing so.
I also believe wider change needs to occur for participation levels to increase. Our sporting institutions need to be welcoming places for women and girls. In my speech, I highlighted some of the problems with the WRU at the moment. Talk of sexism and misogyny is hampering the reputation of the organisation. A report is due, which I believe needs to be published in full. An acceptance of mistakes and a plan to move forward could be instrumental in fast-tracking the female development in Welsh Rugby. I firmly believe that positive change in the WRU will have a huge impact on participation at grassroots level, where our future players can start to feel like they CAN play for Wales.
Sport has so many rewards. Everyone should be able to reap them.