Politicians must now speak out against sexism

THOUSANDS join Girls Matter campaign and spread message that ‘everyday sexism’ is unacceptable, says Hannah Brisbane.

Over 50% of girls say teachers/staff sometimes tell them to ignore sexual harassment incidents. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Over 50% of girls say teachers/staff sometimes tell them to ignore sexual harassment incidents. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Over 50% of girls say teachers/staff sometimes tell them to ignore sexual harassment incidents. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Some say we are currently witnessing the fifth wave of feminism. Confused? Then perhaps you missed the news earlier this month about the latest Girls’ Attitudes Survey findings, which revealed that girls are growing up with sexual harassment as a “normal” part of everyday life.

The new UK-wide research, carried out annually by Girlguiding UK, revealed that girls as young as seven are victims of routine sexual taunts from boys. This behaviour too often intensifies into sexual harassment during their teenage years. Girls also describe battling a casual attitude to sexist remarks and harassment from society at large.

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Shockingly, one in five girls aged seven to ten says she has experienced jokes of a sexual nature from boys, and almost two thirds of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 say they have endured sexual harassment at school.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is others’ response to this harassment. More than half of girls aged 11 to 16 say that teachers and staff sometimes tell them to ignore incidents of sexual harassment or just dismiss it as “banter”. This is unacceptable and is only one of the many reasons why Girlguiding chooses to give girls a voice through this annual survey.

Importantly, this year’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey asked the girls how they thought these issues could be tackled. The results revealed that a lot of girls are speaking out against sexism and that there is overwhelming support for campaigns such as No More Page 3 and the Everyday Sexism Project.

So, although the survey results show girls still feel like second-class citizens, it is clear they are not prepared to sit back and do nothing.

A lot of girls and young women are taking the initiative to speak out about women’s issues themselves and Girlguiding has also launched its very own campaign – Girls Matter.

Girls Matter was launched as a result of last year’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey, as well as additional consultation with more than 2,000 members. The campaign is championed by Girlguiding’s youth panel, Advocate, of which I am lucky enough to be a member, and includes eight calls for change.

With more than 10,000 young women in guiding voting for the first time next year, this is a huge opportunity for politicians to show that they are listening to girls and taking action. So far, more than 4,700 people have pledged their support to the campaign including MPs, MSPs, people in guiding and people outside of the organisation.

In my role on Girlguiding’s youth panel, I have been heavily involved in promoting the Girls Matter campaign, from simply urging my own friends to sign the online pledge to emailing MPs and MSPs. I even received a message of support from Nicola Sturgeon – so, together with Girlguiding Scotland, I am now urging her to back the campaign formally by signing the petition.

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The Girls’ Attitudes Survey findings are in many ways the fuel for the Girls Matter campaign. So I was really excited to be involved in the official launch of its findings at the House of Commons in early December.

It was an amazing event where I got to meet many inspiring, like-minded people who all agreed that everyday sexism is totally unacceptable in this day and age.

The data produced by the Girls’ Attitudes Survey is vital in helping girls and women smash glass ceilings, break barriers and move towards achieving true equality. The picture it paints must be taken seriously by politicians in order for this to happen. Last week, the Girls Matter campaign received cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament – an extremely encouraging move.

But there is still a lot more to do before voters head to the polls in May 2015. So, together with Girlguiding and Girlguiding Scotland, I am calling on all politicians to add their names to Girls Matter and speak out for the change that girls and young women in our society want and deserve to see.

• Hannah Brisbane is a Girlguiding Scotland Senior Section member from Drymen and a Girlguiding Advocate