On being a girl

I don’t recall being particularly aware of sexism when I was younger. I had the fortune of growing up with the combination of a female dominated household and an all girls’ secondary school, where no feat was deemed beyond us, so long as we worked hard enough.

It was at university that I first began to really see, experience and study gender inequalities. By this point, I was able to face these issues with a resilience and self-confidence I may not have had at a younger age or without my upbringing. I have found myself increasingly grateful for my experience as a girl and young woman over the last year in particular, as several reports on girls’ experiences of life in the UK have highlighted and evidenced troubling insights.

Across the board, research from Public Health England, Plan International UK and Girlguiding have shown that girls’ experiences of the world are significantly worse than boys’, and that the older young women get the worse these experiences become.

According to Public Health England, girls reported poorer outcomes than boys across a range of indicators of emotional health and wellbeing, with the gap widening between the ages 11 and 15. Girlguiding’s 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed that 22% of 7-10 year old girls regularly don’t feel good enough, with this figure increasing to 65% among 17-21 year olds.

Both Public Health England and Girlguiding found that girls experience concerning levels of stress and pressure around school and college, with Public Health England finding that girls are less likely than boys to say that they enjoy school. Plan International UK’s State of Girls’ Rights in the UK report elaborated on the issue that girls outperforming boys academically doesn’t necessarily indicate that their school experience is positive; for many girls they find that their experience of school simply reinforces perceptions of what girls can and cannot do, leading them to feel there are certain careers and achievements they cannot aspire to. Another survey released by Plan International UK this week showed further gender disparities, with alarming statistics about girls’ experiences online.

Across all three reports, body image was highlighted as a key issue, with 47% of 11-21s who responded to Girlguiding’s survey stating that they felt held back by the way they look. Girls also often feel held back by stereotypes and sexism; according to Girlguiding, 70% of 11-16 year olds believe that sexism is so widespread it affects almost every area of their lives, rising to 80% of 17-21 year olds.

Since reading these reports I haven’t been able to get these figures out of my mind. Growing up is hard enough without all of these additional concerns and barriers. Across the UK, we’re failing girls and it’s time we give them the focus and support they deserve, to ensure that every girl has the best possible experience of life.

My passion about these issues inspired me to apply to this year’s Teach First Innovation Series, and I’m thrilled to have been accepted onto the programme. Over the next 10 months, I will be exploring how we can support young women’s wellbeing, confidence and resilience through schools. The series will give me the chance to develop and deliver a pilot project and hopefully begin a longer journey in this space. I cannot wait to begin the process.

I would love to hear about existing programmes and projects, or any ideas you may have, so please feel free to email me. I’m also keen to focus on supporting girls and young women in my wider work and freelancing, so do get in touch if you’re an organisation who would be interested in collaborating.

(Edit: since this blog was first posted, I have chosen to withdraw from the Innovation Series, but am continuing to consider what I can do to make a difference.)

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