If you think UK no longer needs feminism, new research from Plan International UK proves you are very much mistaken.
The report looks into the best and worst places to grow up as a girl in the UK based on five indicators: child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE results and numbers Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEETs).
It found that Middlesbrough was the worst place for a girl to live in England and Wales, but its core message is blindingly obvious: we have a long way to go until we achieve gender equality in the UK.
“The UK is failing to meet its obligations to girls as set out in international human rights protocols and as things currently stand will fail to meet its obligations under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” Plan International UK campaign manager and report co-author Lucy Russell said.
“What is more, our study shows that a girl’s life chances are tied to where she lives.”
The report, titled ‘The State of Girls’ Rights’, outlined several key areas in which girls are still disadvantaged in the UK.
The researchers interviewed more than 100 girls to hear first-hand about their experiences in these areas.
Girls Are Discriminated Against In School
While girls perform better in exams than boys at school, the report found that their experiences are often reinforcing stereotypes and precluding them from choosing certain subjects and careers.
The report also highlighted previous research that one in five young women in the UK experience sexual abuse during their education.
It found that harassment was still a problem for many teens in the classroom, while some experienced sexism relating to school uniforms.
“There are certain things like with uniforms where girls are told they can wear skirts,” Emma, 18, from Spalding in the North East, said.
“But one girl in my school was told she had to go home because she made a male teacher feel uncomfortable. So they then banned skirts.”
Teen Pregnancy Still Happens
While the number of teenage pregnancies in the UK is the lowest in 40 years, the report indicates that in some areas, a significant number of under 18s are still becoming pregnant every year.
Tamworth in Staffordshire had the highest amount of teen pregnancies in England and Wales in 2013, with 40.5 per 1,000 girls aged under 18 becoming pregnant.
In comparison, 7.6 per 1,000 under 18s became pregnant in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
Plan UK International has called for mandatory sex and relationships education in schools, to empower girls to make decisions that are right for them.
Morgan, 18, from Lincolnshire, said: “Personally don’t think the sex ed at my school was anything special, I don’t remember learning anything new, we put a condom on a blue plastic willy and that’s about as far as you get with the sex ed at my school.”
Girls Fear The Internet
Using the internet is key to learning, working and staying connected with friends in 2016, but the report found that some girls do not feel comfortable online.
With the prevalence of sexist trolls and cyberbullying, some girls are avoiding technology altogether and putting themselves at a disadvantage for the future.
“They need to use technology, but they don’t always feel safe to do that,” Russell said.
Girls Are Harassed On The Street
Catcalling and other forms of street harassment were common problems highlighted by girls.
“They’re scared every day on the street,” Russell said. “They have certain things they don’t do and places they don’t go,”
Morgan said there are “very few areas” she feels “completely safe”.
“Down my road, I don’t like walking alone anywhere anymore, and my parents don’t let me walk anywhere alone,” she said.
“As a group of girls we like to [go] out with a token male, so if anything happens we’ve got a token male to you know, scare off anyone else.”
She added that she’s experienced catcalling so often while out running that she’s now given up the hobby.
“It stopped me from going running, ‘cause I didn’t feel safe. It only got worse when I went running with my sister, ‘cause a blonde and a brunette it seemed like it was to everyone’s taste, all of a sudden we got twice as many comments.
“It just got out of hand, mum didn’t like us going and I didn’t like going anymore. It’s not enjoyable.”