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Gender Equity in Recreational Sport: Optimizing Facility Use

Optimizing Facility Use: An Overview

The recreation sector plays a very important role in the sport system. It is the main provider of facilities for recreational and competitive sport participation. As well, it offers, on its own or with community partners, a variety of recreational sport programs and physical activity opportunities. As such, the recreation sector has a critical role to play in reducing two significant barriers to the participation and retention of girls, women and gender-diverse individuals: access to community sport facilities, and the design and maintenance of these facilities.

Traditionally, and still today, prime time slots (e.g., ice time) as well as prime facilities (e.g., best fields) are often given to traditional male sports programs, thereby limiting access to facilities for girls and women. Further, just as important as access is the need to improve facilities in a way that addresses the design and maintenance elements that are valued by girls, women and gender diverse individuals in order to help them feel welcome and safe and eager to return.

CPRA has designed this Toolkit, Gender Equity in Recreational Sport: Optimizing Facility Use, to address the issues of facility use and design, not using a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but rather by focusing on building the capacity of recreation practitioners and community sport leaders to better understand their community’s unique characteristics and needs and determine how their organizations can meet these needs.

We invite you to begin exploring these topics by starting your journey with the sections A Focus on Capacity Building and Evaluate Your Capacity. These topics will describe the approach of the Toolkit and help you determine how and where to focus your efforts on the path to gender equity in recreational sport.

To learn more about the findings that influenced the Optimizing Facility Use project’s development, click here for the Project Presentation.

Play Video Gender Equity Toolkit Workshop Introduction

A Focus on Capacity Building

There are many excellent resources that exist promoting gender equity in sport, though fewer dedicated to the topic of facility use and design. Three of our commitments in developing this project are to:

  1. ensure that we are sourcing, promoting and disseminating existing tools that currently address, in part, or in their entirety, the topics of facility use and design;
  2. create a Toolkit as a support to training and education, and not as the final end product, where so many Toolkits already exist;
  3. ensure that we recognize and address the common challenges that many communities face regarding gender equity in recreational sport while, at the same time, honouring their unique circumstances.

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With these commitments in mind, and in consideration of the findings of the data collection efforts, it was determined that this project would focus on capacity building for recreation professionals in four distinct areas:

  1. Organizational Culture
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Facility Design
  4. Evaluation

Further, we will address the role of leadership within each of these four areas of focus as a key ingredient to address gender equity.

In taking this approach, we are seeking to put the emphasis less on a prescriptive approach to implementing changes, and more on the importance of providing a strong foundation, built on the distinct and unique characteristics of neighbourhoods and communities, to tackle gender equity in recreational sport at the community level.

To start you off on this learning journey, learn more about how to evaluate your capacity. This “Gender Equity Temperature Check” tool will help you determine where your strengths lie on this issue and guide you to the tools and topics that will be most relevant to you. However, you are always welcome to view and use all the tools in any section of the toolkit.

Once you know where you want to start, visit some or all of the information under each of the four areas of focus: Organizational Culture, Community Engagement, Facility Design, and Evaluation. Each section contains a workshop related to that topic, some tools that you can employ, as well as resources that address the topic.

We hope you find the presentations and tools useful. And don’t forget to check out the Resources and Success Stories for information about how to contribute to the goal of achieving gender equity in sport by 2035.

Evaluate Your Capacity

In partnership with Canadian Women and Sport (CWS), we are providing you with their Gender Equity Temperature Check tool. This self-assessment tool is a great way to begin to assess where your organization is at in terms of reaching gender equity. It guides you through a review of your organization’s policies and practices, organizational culture and commitment and readiness to change. Once completed, we encourage you to address the different topics related to Facility Use and Design in each of the four areas of focus: Organizational Culture, Community Engagement, Facility Design, and Evaluation.

Gender Equity Temperature Check

Explore the Toolkit

Organizational Culture

Community Engagement

Facility Design

Outcome Evaluation

Creating a Strong Culture and Shared Commitment

Organizational culture is the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of the organization. A great culture exemplifies positive traits that lead to improved performance, while a dysfunctional company culture brings out qualities that can hinder even the most successful organizations. The atmosphere or climate in a recreation facility will set the tone for the recruitment and retention of participants, as well as volunteers and staff.

This section will focus on three specific topics regarding organizational support for girls, women and gender diverse individuals:

  • Creating a Welcoming Environment workshop).
  • Intersectionality
  • Social Hubs and Disrupting Social Norms

Intersecting identities is an understanding that people have multiple identifying factors, both visible and invisible to others. “Intersectionality” is an understanding that systems in our society have been intentionally created to benefit or oppress specific demographics. These slides have been prepared to assist in sharing information as it relates to intersectionality in the sport and recreation field.

Some experts say the design of many playgrounds is sexist, as much more space is devoted to boys, who tend to play sports more than girls.

Are You Afraid of the Dark T.O? is a temporary public outdoor installation for young women and girls that will use unique seating arrangements and LED lighting to improve perceptions of safety at night and encourage after-dark use.

In this blog, Lindsay Knowlton offers strategies and tips, based on research and her own experiences, to help golf clubs and organizations create inclusive, welcoming environments that help women say “yes” to golf.

This article is an overview of the relationships between boys and girls in public space. Based on an extensive literature review and own research we look at the causes of this gender inequality as well at the possible solutions.

Intersectionality is a concept that can help policy makers and sport programmers understand how different types of discrimination – like racism, homophobia, and ableism – combine to prevent some women and girls from participating in sport.

6 documents

Who are the People in Your Neighbourhood?

Many women, girls, and gender diverse individuals in communities across Canada are not engaged in recreation and sport for a variety of reasons. This section explores non-traditional ways of understanding the community and, specifically, those who do not typically participate in recreation. You will find information about the creative engagement of partners to optimize recruitment and retention of those women and girls who are not currently participating in local recreational sport. This could mean the coordination and collaboration in a community that maximizes opportunities for participation across facilities and programs.

For lifelong baller Caren Cao, playing in a co-ed basketball league wasn’t much fun. “If it’s a competitive league, men don’t take you seriously,” she says. “If it’s a casual game, they won’t even put in a full effort to guard you.”

This workshop will explore non-traditional ways of understanding the community and, specifically, those who do not typically participate in recreation.

Quality engagement in physical activity can further the integration of newcomer women and girls into their communities and positively impact their overall quality of life.

Includes resources and key findings from the research which is funded by Sport England.

This guide will help you get more women and girls in your area active – even if you’re not directly involved in the sport or leisure sector.

6 documents

Understanding How Facility Design Can Attract and Encourage Use by Girls, Women and Gender-Diverse Individuals

Awareness around diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and equity is evolving and changing the physical environment that forms the backdrop for sport and recreation. In the development of designs that consider all humans, making the case for girls, women, and gender diverse individuals can positively impact participation in programming offered at facilities and help overcome the barriers that often deter participation.

This section focuses on two key components related to gender equity and the design of recreation facilities:

  • Facility infrastructure design that is universal (“gender mainstreaming”) and/or gender-friendly in nature.
  • Methods to “make the case” for facility design changes in support of gender equity to a variety of stakeholders (e.g., funders, current participants, senior volunteers and staff).

Fitness and recreation centres populate today’s modern urban communities and cater to a wide range of people seeking health, fitness and social connection through physical activity. While women’s experiences in these spaces have received some scholarly attention from feminist scholars and scholars of the body, little research has explored women’s lived experiences of the change room.

By taking a full sustainability lens to our designs at the beginning of the process, we can support better equity, health, and climate resilience for future communities, making our spaces better for everyone.

Cities are supposed to be built for all of us, but they aren’t built by all of us. We spoke to feminists working in urban planning in the city to find out what they think needs to change to make cities better for women.

Visiting parks is an integral part of everyday life, reflecting the vital social, health and recreational role parks play in towns and cities. Parks have numerous benefits for health and wellbeing yet concerns about safety can constrain women and girls’ use and experience of them.

This Standard is a set of principles for managing public park spaces in ways that prioritise women and girls’ safety.

What does a #city look like from Her perspective? How can designs/plans respond to a #woman’s experience?

6 documents

Evaluating Outcomes Using the Best Questions and Data

Gathering and understanding the results of your efforts to address gender equity in your recreational sport organization and sharing these findings in the most appropriate way(s) with stakeholders is fundamental to sound program planning. This section focuses on OUTCOME evaluation in general with specific application to gender equity initiatives and understanding the impact of this work. A six-step framework to evaluation will be accompanied by practical worksheets and relevant gender equity examples shared.

This workshop will focus on OUTCOME evaluation in general with specific application to gender equity initiatives and understanding the impact of this work.

2 documents


We have collected several resources addressing gender equity in recreational sport and we will keep adding more as we find new ones. Please browse the resources, or search, specifically, using the Toolkit topics If you have a resource that you think should be featured here, please contact us at so that we can add it in.

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Last Updated: December 13, 2021