Women's sports includes amateur as well as women's professional sports, in all varieties of sports. Female participation and popularity in sports increased dramatically in the twentieth century, especially in the last quarter-century, reflecting changes in modern societies that emphasized gender parity. Although the level of participation and performance still varies greatly by country and by sport, women's sports are widely accepted throughout the world today. In a few instances, such as figure skating, female athletes rival or exceed their male counterparts in popularity. In many sports women usually do not compete on equal terms against men.
Although there has been a rise in participation by women in sports, a large disparity still remains. These disparities are prevalent globally and continue to hinder equality in sports. Many institutions and programs still remain conservative and do not contribute to gender equity in sports.
The educational committees of the French Revolution (1789) included intellectual, moral, and physical education for both girls and boys. With the victory of Napoleon less than twenty years later, physical education was reduced to military preparedness for boys and men. In Germany, the physical education of GutsMuths (1793) included girl's education. This included the measurement of performances of girls. This led to women's sport being more actively pursued in Germany than in most other countries. When the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale was formed as an all women's international organization it had a German male vice-president in addition to German international success in elite sports.
Women's sports in the late 1800s focused on correct posture, facial and bodily beauty, muscles, and health.
Prior to 1870, activities for women were recreational rather than sport-specific in nature. They were noncompetitive, informal, rule-less; they emphasized physical activity rather than competition. Sports for women before the 20th century placed more emphasis on fitness rather than the competitive aspects we now associate with all sports.
Sports are a high priority in Canadian culture, but women were long relegated to second-class status. There were also regional differences, with the eastern provinces emphasizing a more feminine "girls rule" game of basketball, while the Western provinces preferred identical rules. Girls' and women's sport have traditionally been slowed down by a series of factors: both historically have low levels of interest and participation. There were very few women in leadership positions in academic administration, student affairs or athletics and not many female coaches. The media strongly emphasized men's sports as a demonstration of masculinity, suggesting that women seriously interested in sports were crossing gender lines with the male sports establishment actively hostile. Staunch feminists dismissed sports and thought of them as unworthy of their support. Women's progress was uphill; they first had to counter the common notion that women's bodies were restricted and delicate and that vigorous physical activity was dangerous. These notions where first challenged by the "new women" around 1900. These women started with bicycling; they rode into new gender spaces in education, work, and suffrage. The 1920s marked a breakthrough for women, including working-class young women in addition to the pioneering middle class sportswomen.