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Girls' Attitude Survey 2016

This year girls and young women tell us that they are being held back from having full lives and from achieving their aspirations. Girls are saying they can’t do the things they’d like because they don’t feel safe or because of double standards on what behaviours are acceptable or what roles are open to them compared with boys. Yet it's clear girls are challenging this unfairness. They are reclaiming the internet to express their views and have a voice, with half of girls saying social media empowers them to speak out. They are calling out sexism where they see it and demanding that girls and women aren’t judged by how they look and have equal opportunities now and in their futures.

From as young as seven, girls feel the impact of daily sexist images of women and girls in the media, online and around them. Girls tell us that sexist objectification of women in the media makes them feel disempowered and that gender stereotypes make them feel that their gender will hold them back in life. They tell us they have to confront intense and unobtainable appearance pressures to be perfect and many say they feel they’re not good enough.

Girls tell us that because of abuse online they don’t feel able to have a voice on the things they care about. They think sexism is worse online and girls are being sent unwanted sexualised images and videos. Girls also tell us they don’t feel safe to go where they want and face harassment from boys when they are out and about. Girls are changing their own behaviour to avoid being harassed or intimidated.

Girls also tell us they are facing immense pressures at school and beyond. From a young age girls are worried about fitting in. Older girls tell us they are fearful about finding a job, paying university tuition fees and affording a home. For too many, these experiences reflect the continued decline in their happiness and mental well-being.

At school, too few girls are getting the opportunity to learn about the role that women have played across different academic subjects or gain the skills they need to live their lives well. Only half of girls feel inspired by their education, suggesting there is still a long way to go in making sure education meets their needs.

The findings show that girls have a clear vision for a better world. Despite the pressures they face, girls and young women are passionate about challenging these pressures and the unequal expectations they face. They tell us they want to see more positive images of women and girls around them in the media and in the jobs they aspire to. Overwhelmingly, girls want to live in a world without gender stereotypes, where women and girls aren’t judged on how they look, where they are safe and where people are not discriminated against.

Despite efforts to silence them through online abuse and everyday sexism, girls tell us they are using their voice to call out inequality. Girls are using online forums to use their voice, and to connect with others on the things they care about. Girls are proud of their achievements and are full of ideas about what they want to do in their futures. There are girls who feel they can do anything if they try, feel adventurous, are proud of something they’ve achieved and feel brave. There are girls who tell us they’ve had a positive experience of school and being online and are happy.

Yet much remains to be done so that girls are not adapting their own behaviour and aspirations to navigate an unequal society. Instead society needs to change to meet girls’ expectations and support them to fulfil their potential. By listening to girls we can address the barriers they face to achieving their aspirations and support them to flourish.