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Calls for nationwide ban on sexist advertising, non-gendered uniform policies, as Aussie girls report endemic inequality on International Day of the Girl

Australian girls report they are treated unfairly in all areas of their lives: at home, at school and in popular culture, a new survey of 1,745 girls aged 10 to 17 – released for International Day of the Girl - reveals. Almost all (98%) say they receive unequal treatment to boys. 

Plan International Australia’s The Dream Gap: Australian girls’ views on inequality report investigates girls’ experiences of inequality, their ambitions to lead and their views on gender stereotypes as they grow into adolescence and young adulthood.

The survey, conducted by Essential Research, reveals a remarkable loss of confidence as girls transition into the teenage years and a growing awareness of inequality in all areas of their lives. Almost all (93%) of girls aged 15-17 said it would be easier to get ahead in life if they were not judged on their appearance.

As girls get older, their confidence decreases – from 56 per cent of girls viewing themselves as confident at 10, to 44 per cent by the time they reach 17, to just 27 per cent when they reach adulthood (18-25).  

A country-wide ban on sexist advertising, industry regulations to ban photo-shopped images of women, mandatory Government-implemented non-gendered school uniform policies and gender pay audits for corporations are just some of the actions girls’ rights agency Plan International Australia is calling for to address gender inequality.

Plan International Deputy CEO Susanne Legena said when asked, unprompted, what change they’d like to see in the world, half (50%) wrote responses that included the words: gender equality. 

Globally the situation is dire: in all countries where Plan International works, girls and young women are forced out of equal opportunities before their adult lives have even begun, with girls making up 70 per cent of out-of-school youth and 82 million girls each year in developing countries married before their 18th birthday.

“It’s the same story in virtually all of the countries where Plan International works, to different degrees of severity. Girls are not being treated as equals,” Ms Legena said. 

“Like girls everywhere, Australian girls are confident and they aspire to succeed in their careers and personal lives, but that ambition fades as they get older. This is what we call the dream gap. Girls want to succeed but they face barriers that grow more profound as they enter adulthood. They feel scrutinised for their appearance and a huge amount of pressure to be ‘perfect’.  

“We can’t accept different treatment as the norm for our girls, nor can we dismiss their views. This research gives us a rare insight into the experiences of girls, a group rarely heard from. It’s time we really listened because girls are telling us very clearly that the number one thing they want is equal treatment.”

Plan International Australia ambassador and family psychologist Dr Steve Biddulph AM, author of Raising Girls and 10 Things Girls Should Know, said the drop in confidence that girls feel as they are entering puberty is well-documented. 

“Girls of 10 or 11 are usually very feisty and at ease with themselves, but studies show a real drop off as they enter their teens.  And their mental health has worsened dramatically as a result.  It started to decline 10 years ago and now it’s gone over a cliff. One in five girls now has a diagnosed mental health problem,” Dr Biddulph said. 

“We’re raising a generation of very anxious girls and it seems to be a combination of things, social media exposure that focusses on looks, 24-hour internet access, school pressure,  stressed out parents, perfectionism, the way that boys treat and look at girls .  Even 10 year olds get perved at on the bus and have lewd comments made to them. 

“What we’re saying to parents is tell your girl you are a feminist, and that she needs to be one as well. There’s a movement that she is a part of, it’s been going on for a long time but it needs more.  When some boy is rude or menacing to you, remember this is something that goes on all over the planet, you have to get your friends together and speak up against it and the boys have got to change.

“Dads of daughters are the best ones to get involved in this as well, building her confidence, taking her to work, talking to her about politics and life. If she experiences respect from the men in your own family then she will demand it out in the world as well.”

Plan International is encouraging all Australians to take a pledge for gender equality at 

Key findings : The Dream Gap report
  • At all ages, in all spaces, girls don’t think they are treated equally to boys. Almost all (98%) of girls surveyed said boys and girls receive unequal treatment – this is most profound in sports, followed by in the media (TV and magazines), at school and at home.
  • After inequality, girls are most concerned with being scrutinised by the way they look rather than appreciated for their abilities and talents. Almost all (93%) of girls aged 15-17 said it would be easier to get ahead in life if they were not judged on their appearance.
  • A large number of girls surveyed felt it would be easier to get ahead if they were treated the same way as boys are (91%).
  • As girls get older, their confidence decreases – from 56 per cent of girls viewing themselves as confident at 10, to 44 per cent by the time they reach 17. And it’s a sharper decline to just 27% as they enter adulthood (18-25).
  • 40% of girls think gender is the single biggest barrier to their chances of becoming a leader.
  • Above all else, girls just want to be treated as equals. When asked what change they want to see in the world, 50% of girls aged 10 to 14 in this survey said – unprompted – gender equality, including equal pay.
  • Young men agree they have a role to play to support young women to lead (59% agree) however they are less likely to say seeing more women in power is important to them (50% agree).
  • Plan International Australia is calling for: 
  • State and territory governments should remove gendered school uniforms, and instead give girls and boys the opportunity to choose what uniform they wear.
  • The Government should work with media and the advertising industry to ban sexist advertising, excessive use of Photoshop to prevent girls and boys growing up with unhealthy stereotypes.
  • Government and business should work together to fight the gender pay gap, including conducting gender pay gap audits. 

About the Dream Gap survey:
Essential Research (using the Qualtrics platform) conducted a survey for Plan International Australia from 24 July 2017 to 14 August 2017. This report covers the survey responses of 817 girls aged 10–14 years and 925 girls aged 15–17 years. Essential Research recruited these respondents with thanks to Girl Guides Australia and Dr Stephen Biddulph. 

Girls Takeover Events: From October 11, Australian girls will be ‘taking over’ positions of power to have their voices heard. The Australian takeovers will include Google CEO (October 10), Plan International Australia CEO (October 11) and CEO of Metro Trains in Victoria (October 12). Seventeen young women will takeover as Australian MPs on October 18. Takeovers will be documented live across the world here by using the #girlstakeover hashtag.

Read the full report: