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Dear Young Women

Author:
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By Beatrix*, Guest Blogger

Dear Young Women – we aren’t welcome in Politics. That’s why there needs to be more of us.

I’ve a bit of a reputation for being positive. Relentlessly so. I can be a bit of a whirlwind; pitching up to events, finding the funny and re-enthusing tired activists. People think it’s a skill, and in part it is. But it’s also a way of coping with the fact I live and breathe a world where women – and especially young women – are not welcome.

I could recount the instances of sexism and ageism I’ve experienced in my 10 months working in Politics; the male colleague who flirted with all the subtlety of a brick, asked me out and when I said no ignored me for the best part of a week. The other male colleague who took such delight that I couldn’t translate a piece of legislation that he felt the need to tell the office next door. And the next one after that. And then bring it up at the group meeting later that day. Then there was the time an older woman sent a personal attack via email to an entire committee because she didn’t like that someone ‘in their twenties’ was in charge of social media. The male boss who told me to smile no less than 12 times in one day.

The list goes on. It’s relentless and it’s exhausting but Politics for many young women is a catch 22. The more you want to leave, the more you realise it’s so important to stay. The less you feel welcome, the harder you have to fight to make your voice heard.

There are beacons of light. There are incredible and strong women who have experienced all of this and more yet still stand for selections, elections and for their beliefs. It’s stopped being scandalous to hear of the women who are elected receiving rape and death threats now; it’s expected. Unfortunate perhaps, but not a surprise. Yet these powerful women stand strong and fight for what they believe in – sometimes – nay often – at the expense of their own wellbeing.

I wish I could make this blog inspiring. I wish I’d overcome a challenge that meant I could put out an authentic call for more young women to become involved in Politics, but I can’t do that in good faith. What I can do is leave you with three nuggets of wisdom for those who do:

  1. Stick together. Have each other’s backs.
  2. Know that what you are doing is really fucking important
  3. Speak up. I know it isn’t easy, but if we all chip away at this giant, ugly, macho wall then we can and we bloody well will knock it down.

*This name is a pseudonym

Girls Matter.

Author:

By Amy Callaghan

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Today marks the launch of an exciting new project from Girlguiding, the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women. The project is called Girls Matter, and it details the changes girls and young women would like to see in the future. We’re releasing it in the run up to the 2015 General Election, in order to encourage political parties to listen, and pledge to make these changes happen in the next parliamentary term.

As a member of Advocate, a panel of Girlguiding members aged 14-25 from all over the UK, I’ve been really involved in the project. It’s been the most amazing experience and opportunity, especially knowing how important this project could prove to be.

I mean, it is a politically (and historically) significant project. It’s the first time girls in guiding have made a direct call to politicians. Girlguiding has asked members aged 7-25 what they care about most and think needs to change. There have been consultations, workshops, and sessions about the projects with Brownies aged 7-9, Guides aged 10-14 and members of The Senior Section aged 14-25 across the country. As an Advocate, I’ve been right at the heart of what we’ve found out. I’ve had my say on what I think are the most important issues affecting girls today. And we’ve devised eight calls for change that we ask the government to listen to and commit to act on.

These calls are:

  1. Listen to girls and young women, take them seriously and make sure their voices count.
  2. Demand that schools take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual bullying and harassment.
  3. Call on all schools to teach body confidence and gender equality.
  4. Make girls’ rights a priority in the UK’s approach to international development.
  5. Stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content in mainstream media.
  6. Empower girls and young women to speak out and to be heard on the impact of media sexism and stereotyping.
  7. Modernise Sex and Relationships Education so all young people can make informed decisions and stay safe.
  8. Guarantee that women will be equally represented in Parliament

This is so important. These eight calls represent exactly what girls and young women want from a government. They want action on these things. They want something to be done. They’re saying – we’re saying – ‘This is what’s wrong. This is what we want you to do to make it better.’ Girlguiding research reveals that over half of girls aged 11-21 feel that politicians don’t listen to their views enough. But isn’t that exactly what a government is for? To listen to its people? To make sure their voices are heard and recognised?

Having been so involved with the project, I know how important these issues are. I mean, obviously I am a young woman myself so I know how important the issues are to me, and to the rest of the Advocate panel. But the response from our members on these issues was absolutely overwhelming – these are the issues they care about, that affect their lives. I’ve had a Brownie getting more and more frustrated as she told me how awful it was that someone might feel bad about their appearance because of the way women look in magazines. 87% of girls aged 11-21 feel that they are judged more on looks than ability. No wonder they feel such enormous pressure to live up to the images of women presented in the media! I’ve heard girls as young as 8 saying that lots of people think girls don’t matter as much as boys. That’s right; an 8 year old has already realised that girls are treated differently from boys. Something is clearly wrong with this. And Girls Matter seeks to recognise and change this.

One of the most important calls for me is the last, the one asking that women be equally represented in Parliament. I mean, for goodness’ sake, is it really too much to ask that there be a number of women in Parliament proportionate to the number of women in the population? Seems pretty sensible to me. That way, women’s views will hopefully get represented more equally.

It is so hugely important that politicians realise the significance of this. We need them to pledge to act in order to affect the change girls are asking for. Come on, guys. It’s your responsibility now to show that you’re listening to us and taking us seriously. It’s time for you to do something about it. It’s time to act.

Find out more about Girls Matter and take the online pledge here.

Read blog posts from Girlguiding members about why they think these calls are important here.

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