POLITICS

Australian Girls From Age 10 Know They Are Unequal -- And Know How To Fix It

On International Day of the Girl, no less.

11/10/2017 8:25 AM AEDT | Updated 11/10/2017 9:07 AM AEDT
Brendon Thorne via Getty Images
Plan International Deputy CEO Susanne Legena: "We have got a lot of work to do if we want to create a much more equal society for boys and for girls."

CANBERRA -- The words are clear and come from a 10 year old Australian girl demanding gender equality. A strong voice tells the nation, "I want girls to basically stop being treated as walking Barbie dolls".

Another young women states, "I want to change the way girls are treated". She added, "I want girls to be treated the way boys are treated".

And then something more basic, "I want girls to know they are good enough".

A new national online survey of 1,745 girls aged 10 to 17, conducted by Essential Research and released on Wednesday by girls' rights agency Plan International Australia to mark International Day of the Girl, has found an uninspiring, even damning situation: virtually all the girls who responded (98 percent) believe they are being treated adversely compared to boys.

This belief floods all areas of girls' lives: home, school, in popular culture and particularly in sport and the media.

When asked how to fix this, half of girls aged 10 to 14 replied with the suggestion: gender equality, including equal pay. What did they want? time and time again, "To be taken more seriously", "To be treated equally", "Wish we didn't get judged by what we look like or what we're wearing!" and "To not listen to hate".

It comes on the day girls and young women turn the tables on positions of power, by conducting 600 takeovers of positions of presidents, prime ministers, CEOs and parliamentarians in 60 countries, although 18 offices in Australia's federal parliament will have a delayed #GirlsTakeover on Wednesday, October the 18th, including that of Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.

The young women will shadow the politicians throughout the day and are expected to press the MPs and Senators on improving the currently poor participation of young women in politics.

But today, on International Day of the Girl, the take over is elsewhere, including the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, the ACT Legislative Assembly and the position of CEO at Plan International.

The newly released Plan International report called "Dream Gap" - the gap between what girls hope for in early in life and what they later believe is realistic for them - has found 40 percent of the responding girls think gender is the single biggest barrier to leadership, while almost all (93 percent) of girls aged 15-17 said it would be easier to get ahead in life if they were not judged on their appearance.

"Girls are internalising and recognising it is not the same if you are a boy or a girl, even in 2017," Plan International Deputy CEO Susanne Legena told HuffPost Australia. "We have got a lot of work to do if we want to create a much more equal society for boys and girls."

The report notes plummeting confidence as girls become teens. Fifty-six percent of girls view themselves as confident at 10, which drops to 44 per cent by the time they reach 17, to just 27 per cent when they reach adulthood (18-25).

"It is not an accident that the loss of confidence is happening at the same as you are entering puberty and your body is starting to change," Legena said.

"You start to feel like maybe your primary asset is really on your appearance and on your body.

"And you are probably taught that you need to keep that safe and if you don't, it is your fault. So it is not surprising to me that maybe girls would likely withdraw from the community and the outside world to protect themselves given that is what is happening."

The girls surveyed and Plan International want a ban on sexist advertising including industry regulations to ban photoshopped images of women, the streamlining of non-gendered school uniforms and gender pay audits for corporations.

"Gender stereotypes are really, really harmful both for boys and for girls, " Legena said.

"If you grow up thinking that men and women have certain set roles and that men have freedom and women are constrained by their bodies or by their opportunity, it is not really a surprise to me that in the political world or the corporate world or other places, ambitious women are viewed negatively and instead of being embraced or rewarded and that girls are looking at that and not putting themselves out there for that."

There's a concerted push to change advertising rules. France has just passed a law making it illegal to photoshop commercial images without disclosure and a fortnight ago, one of the world's most influential photo agencies, Getty, banned doctored stock images.

"The girls talk a lot in the report about this emphasis on bodies and on image over their abilities and their character," Legena explains. "So there is this kind of push to say, 'Why are we tolerating sexist advertising or excessive photoshopping of girls?' So they are growing up with really unhealthy stereotypes, stereotypes which are reinforcing a negative view of what boys and girls can be and who they are."

"There's a limit to what the girls are able to change themselves. So the callout is a rally to their parents and to the people with power and influence to be able to work them."

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