Sexism is daily reality for girls, says Girlguiding

Nail varnished hand and ipad Girls recognise the inequalities they face are likely to have an impact on their future opportunities and curtail their choices, says Girlguiding

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Sexism is so widespread in the UK that it affects "most aspects" of the lives of girls and young women, a report from Girlguiding says.

"Sexual harassment is commonplace, girls' appearance is intensively scrutinised and their abilities are undermined," says the report.

The report Equality for Girls is based on a survey of more than 1,200 girls and young women aged seven to 21.

Girlguiding chief executive Julie Bentley called it a "wake-up call".

She said: "This cannot be dismissed as something that girls and young women just have to deal with as they grow up."

Girls needed to live in an equal society if they were to flourish and fulfil their potential to be leaders in all walks of life, added Ms Bentley.

The survey of a representative sample of girls and young women, both Guides and non-Guides, gives "a disturbing insight into the state of equality for girls in the UK", says Girlguiding, which has more than half a million members.

'Priority issue'

"Girls identified sexism as a priority issue for their generation", with three-quarters saying sexism affected "most areas of their lives", says the report.

Of the 11 to 21-year-olds questioned, some 87% thought women were judged more on their appearance than their ability.

More than a third (36%) of all those surveyed had felt "patronised or made to feel stupid" because of their gender, rising to 60% of the 16 to 21-year-olds.

Most of the 13-year-olds questioned said they had experienced sexual harassment, rising to 80% of 19 to 21-year-olds.

This included being shouted and whistled at, sexual graffiti and pornography, sexual jokes and taunts as well as unwanted sexual attention, unwanted touching and stalking.

More than three-quarters (78%) said they found this behaviour threatening if they were alone.

'Double standards'

The girls said there were "clear double standards" for girls and boys when it came to relationships and sex.

Three-quarters (76%) of the 11 to 21-year-olds said girls were judged harshly for sexual behaviour seen as acceptable in boys, with just 3% feeling the opposite.

Most of the 16 to 21-year-olds questioned said they thought too much responsibility was placed on girls for their sexual safety.

The report also talks of bias in the way women are portrayed in the media, with girls and women facing "unprecedented levels of personal and public scrutiny" over body shape".

Of the 11 to 21-year-olds questioned, 75% agreed boys expected girls to look like images they saw in the media, while 71% said they would like to lose weight.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Lucy Lawrenson Girlguiding

Other challenges are similar to those faced by previous generations, such as overcoming stereotypes and constraints in work and family life, say the authors.

Some 46% of the 11 to 21-year-olds said they feared having children would damage their careers. Most of the 16 to 21-year-olds worried some employers may to some extent prefer to hire men.

The report concludes that despite awareness of the difficulties they face, most girls remain positive, with 55% hoping to get to the top of their chosen profession, 70% wanting to combine a career and motherhood and 11% preferring a career over children.

Lucy Lawrenson, 18, of Girlguiding, said she was "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."

Emma Gees, 22, also of Girlguiding, said cultural misconceptions and media stereotypes "deeply ingrained in our culture" were major barriers to equality.

"Equality requires a change in perception and attitudes, not just laws, which is currently the case," she said.

Kelley Temple, National Union of Students women's officer, said the report echoed new NUS research into lad culture at universities.

"It's time decision-makers across the spectrum woke up to the realities of gender inequality," she said.

"We need to take action to tackle this culture within our communities that cuts women out whenever it rears its ugly head."

Girlguiding plans to meet the leaders of the main political parties in the run-up to the general election in 2015 to discuss the findings.

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