A BASINGSTOKE political party has teamed up with a young campaigner and the University of Winchester to demand gender equality in school sports.

As previously reported by the Gazette, Sherfield School pupil Katie Allen last year launched a petition calling on the government to make equal sporting opportunities for all genders in schools a legal requirement.

The petition has since gained more than 10,000 signatures, and Katie has now joined forces with Professor Eric Anderson of Winchester University and the Women’s Equality Party (WE) to send an open letter to the Secretaries of State for Education and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, arguing in favour of gender equality in school sport.

Among the forty signatories of the letter are Manchester United and England footballers Abbie McManus, Ella Toone and Kirsty Smith and experts from the Universities of Winchester, Chichester, Solent and Bath Spa.

16-year-old Katie Allen said: “Gender segregation in school sports perpetuates and increases gender inequality. Football is the country’s most beloved sport – why should girls not have an equal chance to play it? And why should boys who want to dance instead not get the opportunity?”

Stacy Hart, WE Basingstoke branch leader, added: “WE know that kids’ potential is severely limited and their mental health damaged by being put into gender boxes that dictate what they’re allowed to do or who they’re allowed to be.

“Ridiculous stereotypes like ‘girls can’t kick’ or ‘real boys want to play rugby’ are actively harmful to children’s development.”

Currently, the Equalities Act 2010 stipulates only that schools must offer equal opportunities to participate in ‘comparable’ sporting activities. The signatories argue that this leaves the matter open to interpretation in a way that can actively impact what sports are offered to school pupils based on their gender.

Commenting on this, Professor Eric Anderson of the University of Winchester said: “What is ‘comparable’ and fair becomes a matter of headteacher's choice, informed by cultural association of female physical inferiority and male disinterest and thereby perpetuates those stereotypes anew, with the bullying and negative health implications that accompany them for those that transgress gendered norms."

Data from 288 English secondary schools following a Freedom of Information request by Professor Anderson revealed that many of the top ten activities delivered to each sex are the same, but boys tend to be offered football, cricket, basketball, and rugby union, whereas girls are offered netball, gymnastics and dance.

The Women’s Equality Party Basingstoke, Professor Anderson and Katie Allen are calling on the government to implement a new education code which would mandate that sports are offered equally to all schoolchildren.

Katie,who is a keen football player who trains several times a week with Oxford United talent ID centre and AFC Aldermaston, added: “We hope to hold some public events later in the year for people to come together and show that anyone can love any sport, no matter their gender, and that removing those barriers is a great way to get kids active.”