10 July 2018: Girls reluctant to pursue a life of politics cite sexism as key reason

Girls and young women in Australia are reluctant to pursue a career in politics, saying they worry about being treated unfairly, according to research from global girls rights group Plan International Australia.

In 2017, Plan International surveyed more than 2000 Australian girls and young women aged 10-25-years old about their aspirations for the future.

New data from that survey, released today, shows only 2% of girls aged 10-14 listed politics as a future career option, rising to 5% for girls 15-17 and then dropping to 0% of young women aged 18-25.

Director of Advocacy at Plan International Australia, Hayley Cull, said the revelation that girls initially show some interest in politics and then give up on it entirely as they enter adulthood, was ‘extremely concerning, but not at all surprising’.

“When you consider how female politicians are still treated in Parliament and the media in this country, is it any wonder the next generation has no desire to expose themselves to this world?” Ms Cull said.

“There’s a saying that you can only be what you can see. Unfortunately, in Australia, girls grow up seeing strong, smart, capable female politicians constantly reduced to what they’re wearing, comments about their sexuality and snipes about their gender. What they don’t see is a consistent level of respect that should be afforded to all people, no matter their gender or occupation.”

Plan International Australia was today named as one of the organisations that will receive any potential damages from Ms Hanson-Young’s defamation action, as a result of the organisation’s ongoing work to end harassment and abuse of girls and young women in Australia and internationally.

The Dream Gap report, produced for International Day of the Girl 2017 (October 11), found 69% of girls aged 15-17 wanted to become a leader in their chosen field one day.

However, the vast majority felt discrimination and scrutiny would be a major hurdle to overcome. Almost all (93%) of girls in the same age group said it would be easier to get ahead in life if they were not judged on their appearance.

Almost all (98%) of the girls Plan International Australia surveyed said boys and girls received unequal treatment and the number one ‘wish’ girls had for their future was to live in a gender equal society, above anything else.

Ms Cull said Plan International Australia, whilst non-partisan, is pleased Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has recognised the organisation’s work to eliminate sexism from politics in Australia.

She said the most recent example of Senator Leyonhjelm’s comments about Sarah Hanson-Young’s sexuality was ‘the tip of an incredibly large and ever-present iceberg’.

“Senator Hanson-Young is certainly not the first woman who a male politician has attempted to humiliate in the Senate and she won’t be the last, but it’s clear – for the future of our Senate and for our country - that this behaviour has to stop. The vast majority of Australians do not stand for abuse and it’s certainly not what they want to see coming from elected representatives,” she said.

“For too long outright sexist barbs have been hurled at female politicians under the guise of Parliamentary privilege and free speech. No-one should be subject to abuse and sexism in the workplace.”

Findings from Plan International Australia’s She Can Lead: Young people in Australia share their views on politics report showed more than half of young women (56%) thought female politicians were treated unfairly by their male colleagues. One in three young men surveyed also agreed this was the case.

The She Can Lead report was handed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with the Leader of The Australian Greens, Leader of the Xenophon team and Deputy Leader of the Labor party, in Canberra by a group of 17 young women who participated in Plan International’s Parliamentary Takeover program in 2017.