Three quarters of girls say sexism will affect most parts of their lives, including their careers

Some 75 per cent of girls aged 11-21 feel sexism is so widespread in UK society that it affects most areas of their lives, according to a new research report from Girlguiding

The report Equality for girls – the fifth report from the charity’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey – focuses specifically on the state of equality for girls in the UK today after girls identified sexism as a priority issue for their generation.

It shows almost half of girls aged 11-21 worry that having children will negatively affect their career and the majority of 16-21s think that employers to some extent prefer to employ men.

However, 55 per cent say they would like to be the leader in their chosen job, 88 per cent say both parents should be able to share time off after their baby is born and 70 per cent want to combine having children and a career.

The report also reveals that more than a third of girls aged 7-21 (36 per cent) have been patronised or made to feel stupid because of their sex, rising sharply to 60 per cent of 16-21s; 87 per cent of girls aged 11-21 think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability; 60 per cent of 11-21s have had comments about their appearance shouted at them at school, while 62 per cent have been shouted or whistled at in the street; and 70 per cent of girls aged 13 and over report more intrusive forms of sexual harassment at school or college, including: sexual jokes or taunts (51 per cent), seeing images of girls or women that made them uncomfortable (39 per cent), unwanted sexual attention (28 per cent) and unwanted touching (28 per cent).

The survey says girls face unprecedented levels of personal and public scrutiny of their looks – 80 per cent of 11-21s think there is too much media discussion about women’s weight and 75 per cent agree boys expect girls to look like images they see in the media. These pressures influence girls at a young age – 71 per cent of 11-21s would like to lose weight and one in five primary school aged girls has been on a diet.

Three quarters of 11-21s (76 per cent) say girls are judged harshly for sexual behaviour seen as acceptable in boys and more than half of 16-21s (53 per cent) think too much responsibility is placed on girls for their sexual safety. Many girls feel their schools have failed to provide adequate sex education, with 64 per cent of 16-21s saying not enough focus is given to relationships.

Girlguiding Advocate Lucy Lawrenson, 18, said: “The fifth Girls’ Attitudes Survey shows why it is so important that young women have a chance to speak out about what it feels like to be a girl growing up in the UK. I am depressed by the findings – issues that should only be read about in our history books are still common. I know because they happen to me, and this can’t continue. Something has to change.”

Girlguiding’s Chief Executive Julie Bentley said: “As the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women, Girlguiding believes passionately that girls should be allowed to flourish and fulfil their potential to be leaders in all walks of life. But to do this they need to live in an equal society.

“This cannot simply be dismissed as something that girls and young women just have to ‘deal with’ as they grow up – these results should be a wake-up call for decision-makers across the board. This is an ambitious, resilient and hopeful generation of girls who are capable of achieving so much – we must not let inequality get in their way.”

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