Education, Visibility and Representation: International Day of the Girl

Today, October 11th 2016, is International Day of the Girl, its mission “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” 

What about International Day of the Boy ? I can hear the permanently offended, self-righteous, mono-visioned clattering away furiously on their keyboards already.

Well, to be frank,  there isn’t one. It’s still different for girls, you see. Different for girls, in 2016, in developing countries, in first world countries, across the globe.

A report published by UNESCO in 2013 states that millions of girls across the globe are being denied an education – and that two thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate people are female. What International Day of the Girl hopes to highlight is that when we improve things for girls, we improve them for everyone. Improving things for girls, doesn’t mean taking anything away from the boys – there is enough education to go around, all they need is the same, not more.

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UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report

We might think that we have nothing to worry about education wise in this neck of the woods but the GirlGuiding Society have recently released their Girls’ Attitude Survey for 2016 which found some revealing information about what’s happening in our schools.

Aged 7-10, 91% of girls say they have the same choices as the boys when it comes to sport and exercise; however this falls steeply to only 43% aged 11-21. 52% of 11-21 year olds say the role of women in history is not represented as equally as men. The survey also shows that the STEM subjects are still perceived as being ‘for boys’ by 52% of 11-21 year olds, even though only 8% of the same age group think boys are better at those subjects.

Representation and visibility is key. Girls need to see women doing these things – we need to see female STEM teachers and we need to highlight the role of women in history. Equally,we need to see more men in primary school teaching and early childcare facilities –  too often pre-school and primary years are overwhelmingly female, a more representative balance would benefit everyone. Basically, more of everybody doing everything.

As the stats in this report show, we still have lots of work to do in making sure girls know every opportunity is available to them, as it is to their male counterparts. School plays such an important part in forming our future selves, and shaping our confidence; what is really interesting is across so many of the questions girls start out with confidence and a feeling of being equals in the 7-10 age group, but the figures often drop dramatically once they enter the 11-21 year old group.

For example:

12% of 7-10 year olds agree they have been made to feel stupid because they are a girl. By the age of 17-21, this has risen to 57%.

63% of 7-10 year olds feel confident most of the time, falling to 39% by 11-16 and 31% by 17-21 years old. 18% of 17-21 year olds never feel confident in themselves.

Similar patterns arise across the report. Something is wrong when girls are steadily losing confidence as they develop and grow. I look at my three year old girl – so full of life, full of herself and full of confidence. I hope it remains, that confidence.

When I look back at my own school days, I know I was clever, but was afraid to show it. I know I began to feel very self-conscious about my body, aged about 12, thanks to an inappropriate PE teacher. I know I was ‘bad’ at maths and science. I know I hated to wear the little burgundy gym skirt we were made to wear for PE. Back in the school milieu now with my son, the gender divide is often glaring; no girls at the boys parties, one solitary girl at the football lessons. It’s amongst the parents that it is worst though; all mams helping out at the school fair, all mams sending messages about homework and holiday arrangements. Inconsequential as these things are when weighed up against the lack of basic rights afforded to the girls of developing countries, they all combine to portray an image of a world where girls do this and boys do that and to cross the divide is to be an exception. Less of exceptions, more of everybody doing everything.

At the end of the Girls’ Attitude Survey, the girls were asked the three most important ways to improve girls’ and women’s lives. This is what the ever wise and confident 7-10 year olds had to say: let’s listen to them.

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Throughout today Plan International are hosting #girlstakeover  events across the globe where girls will step into the shoes of leaders, demonstrating to the world what they can achieve, now and in the future. Being visible. Representing.

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2 comments

  1. Improving things for boys, doesn’t mean taking anything away from the girls…

    Like

  2. This is a great piece. I often find myself telling my daughter (7) how pretty or beautiful she is, how I like what she’s wearing. These are all lovely compliments but the focus is on how she looks. I try and remember to tell her how kind and clever and funny she is too, how she looks smart and neat not just pretty. i want her to be proud of herself and confident in how she looks, but not preoccupied by it as she grows up.

    Liked by 1 person

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