For years we’ve heard about the need to empower girls. But do they really feel empowered?
No, reckons Plan International UK, whose State Of Girls’ Rights In The UK 2020 report surveyed 1,000 young women aged 14 to 21. Highly aware of gender inequality and discrimination, young women are now are calling out what they feel have been empty messages of female empowerment. Here are our key takeaways from the new report…
1) SEX & RELATIONSHIPS EDUCATION
Girls want regular, relevant, “real-world” sex & relationships classes. They want to learn with boys, and they want boys to learn about periods. Girls – especially those who are taught very little about their body parts and sexuality – also notice the lack discussion of pleasure.
“I wish I had access to more information, particularly about sexuality and the female body” – London participant
“Nobody ever talks about porn. We had [a speaker] come in to do the porn talk the other day. I was actually quite amused watching the boys who were clearly porn watchers; they had no idea just how the industry exploited women. And they were the ones that were asking all the questions. That’s where boys are getting their sex tips from” – Inverness participant
“A lot of things have always been taboo. People haven’t been talking about sex, rape, periods, how your body grows… It’s really important that we talk about these kinds of things because where else are we going to learn about it? We have to have somewhere where we can talk about it, have our opinions and not be judged… It should be talked about in multiple places: at school, at home, in the media” – Birmingham participant
2) BODY IMAGE
Girls are under scrutiny – they feel their bodies are being policed and judged by parents, teachers, friends and online. They’re also under pressure to conform to unrealistic body and beauty standards. And they can never win: if they wear make-up or if they don’t, that gets commented on. And it all has an impact.
Because of worrying about their appearance…
1 in 6 girls have missed school or work
1 in 4 have decided not to leave the house (eg to go to the shops or out for a walk)
“We are constantly being told we are not good enough or pretty enough. Not – enough. Constantly being told by, like, everywhere. You can’t escape capitalism or ads. They always want to make money off you, so they are always going to prey on any insecurity. So you are bombarded constantly by the need to be perfect – and that’s insane” – Belfast participant
“There’s an idea that if you’re pretty and stuff, if you want to dress up, you can’t be smart at the same time” – London participant
“There’s something really liberating about just accepting yourself, because we often just, like, objectify ourselves” – London participant
Yes, girls outperform boys in educational achievement. But subject choices are still gendered. Stereotypes hold girls back, and that has an impact on their career chances. Girls also experience rampant sexism and harassment in school.
“Boys’ views and needs are prioritised over our own, which stifles gender equality and the opportunities available to us” – Youth Advisory Panel member
“It’s good that they build football pitches, but do girls get to use that space?” – Newcastle participant
“We have been followed by men at night, even when we are in groups. Our teachers have had to report suspicious men loitering outside the school gates to the police. Girls have walked down the street with men behind graphically joking with their friends about how they might rape us or even snatch us. We are angry that we are forced to question and change our normal behaviour to avoid being a target” – Youth Advisory Panel member
4) PUTTING EQUALITY ISSUES ON THE MAP
With the interactive Girls’ Rights In The UK map, you select a theme – safety, diversity, stereotypes, body image, education, street harassment, digital spaces, representation – then pinpoint somewhere on the map to read a local girl’s story…
Body image + London = ”I don’t see why the way I look is being dictated by someone else’s opinion of what an ideal woman should look like“ – Rochelle, 16
Digital spaces + Scottish Highlands = “In lessons about pornography and that sort of stuff I don’t think the boys actually listen to it. It just goes in one ear and out the next – they think: ‘Oh, I don’t need to know this; it doesn’t affect me. I can just watch it; I’m not addicted to it’” – Jade, 16
Street harassment + Scottish Highlands = “You think: ‘Oh what am I doing wrong and why do I deserve this’ and stuff. You feel the blame on yourself. ‘Oh maybe my skirt’s too short today’ – but no, wear it to the length you want it to be. That’s just victim blaming yourself; that’s not how any girl, women, boy, man should live” – Kirsty, 15
• Read more about making girls feel safe on the streets & online and smashing stereotypes in Plan International UK’s blog post Five reasons we’re talking about UK girls’ rights in 2020
• Join the Because I Am A Girl campaign to “stand with brave girls everywhere as they take on issues that matter to them”and end violence & discrimination against girls. Sign up here