Life Wellbeing Girls as young as 10 say their lives are impacted by sexism

Girls as young as 10 say their lives are impacted by sexism

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Almost all girls from the age of 10 think they are treated differently to boys, and that it negatively impacts them. Photo: Getty
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Almost all Australian girls as young as 10 say they recognise the gender inequality they face.

A survey of 1742 girls found 96 per cent of those aged 10-14 and 98 per cent of those 15-17 reported feeling they were treated unequally.

Confidence and aspirations plummeted with age, the report released on Wednesday by Plan International Australia found.

“Like girls everywhere, Australian girls are confident and they aspire to succeed in their careers and personal lives, but that ambition fades as they get older,” said Susanne Legena, Deputy CEO of Plan.

“This is what we call the ‘dream gap’. Girls want to succeed but they face barriers that grow more profound as they enter adulthood. They feel scrutinised for their appearance and a huge amount of pressure to be ‘perfect’.”

Almost all girls aged 15-17, at 93 per cent, said they were stymied by judgements on their appearance. That figure was still a shocking 89 per cent for girls aged 10-14.

The survey found confidence decreased with age, from 56 per cent of girls aged 10 viewing themselves as confident down to 44 per cent of those aged 17.

Two-thirds of those aged 15-17 said they aspired to be leaders, but this dropped to 49 per cent of young women aged 18-25 – who were separately questioned for comparison.

Ms Legen said she believed confidence changed through puberty because it’s when girls get a taste of life as a woman.

“You start to develop into looking like a woman … This kind of emphasis on what you look like becomes really, really targeted,” Ms Legen told The New Daily.

Puberty is when parents begin to police what their daughters wear, dads get hyper-protective, and teen girls are taught to beware, she said.

“So it’s not really a surprise. If you’re starting to feel fearful, or you’re starting to experience harassment or catcalling, it might be your first realisation that being a woman is not that easy.”

Seeing the way women who don’t fit gender stereotypes are treated in the media would be enough to switch girls off, Ms Legen said.

A 10-year-old Victorian girl told Plan: “It would be nice to see women in positions of power who didn’t have to look good at the same time.”


LISTEN: The youngest girls in this film will be approaching retirement by the time men and women are paid equally in Australia.If we want true equality, we need to listen to what girls and young women have to say. Partnering with our friends at Wellcom World for International #dayofthegirl we asked girls aged 10 to 17 what they would change. This is what they had to say.

Posted by Plan International Australia on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gender was the biggest barrier to their chances of becoming a leader, according to 40 per cent of respondents. Effects were compounded for those from marginalised groups, Plan said.

The sharpest decline in experiences was felt in the home, where those aged 10-14 said they were treated as equals 61 per cent of the time, down to 36 per cent in their late teens.

Girls felt inequality the most from sports and media, with between 6 and 7 per cent of girls saying they were treated equally.

When asked what change they’d like to see in the world, 50 per cent said, unprompted: “Gender equality.”

“I was kind of surprised in 2017 in Australia, 50 per cent would just be wanting that. I just felt, ‘oh, we’ve got a long way to go’,” Ms Legen said.

But she was heartened by responses from young men, 59 per cent of whom said they had a place to support women become leaders.

To make change, the advocacy group called on gendered school uniforms and sexist advertising to be banned. Plan also said governments should fight to close the workplace gender gap.

The report was released on Wednesday as part of International Day of the Girl, alongside ‘Girls Takeover’ events. Girls will take over 18 offices in Australia’s Federal Parliament next Wednesday as part of the campaign.

Plan enlisted Essential Research to conduct the survey of 817 girls aged 10-14 and 925 girls aged 15-17. A separate cohort of 530 young men and women aged 18-25 were also questioned.

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