Plan International report shows best and worst places in the UK for girls

A 172-page report from Plan International titled “The State of Girls’ Rights in the UK 2019-2020” confirms that though UK girls have seen some progress in the past few years, from #MeToo to the election of the UK’s second female prime minister, there is still much work to be done.

Three of the five top areas to be a girl in the UK are in Orkney Islands, East Renfrewshire and the Shetland Islands, all in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Blackpool in England is considered to be the worst, according to Plan International’s report.

Elen John, a first-year student at the The University of Edinburgh from Wales said that her experience in the Orkney Islands aligns with the finding that it is the best place to be a girl in the UK, though she was always treated the same as boys growing up.

There, she said, “It was more like, you didn’t focus on what other people were thinking about you as you went about your day.

“Whereas here, even though it is better than other countries, probably, every time you leave the house, it’s like ‘what do I look like, what will other people think of me?’”

The report from the children’s charity based its rankings on child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, educational attainment, child obesity, and rates of unemployment and lack of education.

Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK said in an official statement: “As we enter 2020, it is encouraging to see that Scotland is leading the movement for giving girls greater access to opportunity and equality.

“But sadly, our report finds that girls across the UK, including in Scotland, still feel disempowered and unable to realise their rights, with their potential largely determined by birthplace.”

The report acknowledges that there is a gap in data on violence against women and the high ranking of Scotland “does not mean we should become complacent on girls’ rights in that area.”

Each survey used to compile the report featured the insights of over 1,000 girls aged fourteen to twenty-one from around the UK.

Six in ten girls feel that males are treated better than them. In 2017, 13.3 per cent of deaths of girls aged five to nineteen were from suicide.

Two in three girls aged fourteen to twenty-one have been sexually harassed in public.

Much of the findings focus on how girls feel unsafe in public spaces and alter their own behavior to avoid sexual harassment.

The findings apply to school settings as well, with 37 per cent of girls at co-ed schools reportedly facing some kind of sexual harassment.

And while girls overall are outperforming boys in school, their political opinions are often taken less seriously, and they are discouraged from entering male-dominated academic fields.

Once girls do enter these fields, there is still often a pay gap.

Rachel, 15, from Ards and North Down said in the report: “It makes me feel like no matter how hard I’m going to work, that there could be a guy beside me, not working nearly as hard, he’s going to get the exact same rewards.”

John, another girl featured in the report, felt equal to boys growing up but said that the one difference between genders was expectations in academics.

Boys, she said, are more willing to shout out answers than girls, even if they knew the answer. “It’s just to do with the confidence that boys are expected to have, and therefore do tend to have in school, compared to girls,” she said.

Furthermore, while social media helps connect girls, it also works to sexualize them and create anxiety that often goes untreated. Girls’ bodies may be scrutinized, and they are often shamed for menstruating.

John said, “In the UK that’s still a huge thing, is what you look like and how you’re going to be judged based on that, not on your character.”

The report highlights how oppression is intersectional, with women of colour facing multiple levels of discrimination.

It states: “Many girls of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds express how they feel further excluded from public spaces, with a feeling of ‘safe zones’ vs ‘white spaces’ emerging, whereby they experience multiple forms of racism in certain places.”

In the report, Tanya, 21, from Birmingham says, “Growing up as a black woman, it is quite hard to actually see someone who represents you in a higher position.

“So, I feel like some of the standards that we do see ourselves are a bit lower.”

Transphobia is also pervasive. 45 per cent of transgender respondents who started transitioning while in school reported that their schools were not supportive of their transition, with some teachers not knowing what transgender meant.

Plan International hopes to lift up the individual voices of girls around the UK, who all face different obstacles.

Their website features an interactive map where people can read stories from girls in their area.
In response to the details of the report, Plan International UK created a list of six demands for the government to improve girls’ rights in the UK.

These include making all spaces safe for girls, reforming education, giving girls voices, collecting data on girls, giving all girls rights, and ending government control of female bodies.

Image Credit: Datbot via Wikimedia

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