The difficulty of being a woman is a well-documented topic, the gravity of which is fiercely debated in the media and in politics alike. The denial of basic human rights on account of being female is an issue faced globally, and even in the richest countries in the world, sexism is still a prevalent problem. To address this, the UN has recognized the International Day of the Girl since 2012, an event that landed on October 11 this year. To commemorate the event, the Girl Guides of Canada conducted a survey of over 500 girls between the ages of 15 and 17 across Canada to figure out what the biggest problems facing young girls today are. The survey found that 59% of girls feel pressure from society to conform to unrealistic standards about what it means to be a “girl”, and 56% agree that they receive mixed messages about how they’re supposed to act and look.

Adults can say “it gets better” all they want, and maybe it does, but the mantra does nothing to alleviate the stress that comes with being a girl.

These results may be surprising to most of Canada’s population, but assuredly not to the estimated over four million girls who live here. Girls today face massive pressure to conform to a certain image enforced by popular media, and despite the fact that many companies have jumped on the “body positivity” train, many girls still feel that their bodies, hair, and skin aren’t good enough. Even those with the “ideal body type,” from the point of view of one girl will see themselves as seriously lacking compared to somebody else. The added pressure to wear makeup (but not too much), dress to look good (but not too good), and look like that model (but not too much like her) makes it nearly impossible for a young girl to feel comfortable in her own skin, and many will take drastic measures to look “perfect”. As many as 4% of Canadian women will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, almost ten times more than men, and many of these disorders will begin during adolescence. Adults can say “it gets better” all they want, and maybe it does, but the mantra does nothing to alleviate the stress that comes with being a girl.

Body image is not the only source of stress, however. 25% of girls reported that they’re scared to pursue their career aspirations because they fear a “glass ceiling”, won’t get paid as much as their male colleagues, be treated differently in the workplace, and/or don’t see any female role models in their career of choice. After the blatant misogyny that was incredibly prevalent in the 2016 US President election, many girls were left wondering, “what hope do I have to succeed where people think that this behavior is okay?”, and this presents a serious issue. The world has proven time and time again that empowering women is a key to success, but with so much evident struggle for a woman to succeed by virtue of the fact that she is a woman, there is very little inspiration for girls to actively try to climb the metaphorical ladder.

While the UN is assuredly bringing to light and aiding feminist movements, more work is needed. Many prominent politicians are declaring themselves feminists, but their actions are frankly minimal. Our very own Justin Trudeau made history in 2015 when asked why his cabinet is 50% female by responding “Because it’s 2015,” but his promises for inclusive economic growth have seemingly been forgotten as the federal government is yet to take steps to ensure women’s work is paid and valued equally. British PM Theresa May is a self-proclaimed feminist, yet many of her policies directly harm women. A gender-balanced federal government may be a huge step forward, but it ultimately means nothing if they refuse to take action of behalf of the female population.

The time is ripe to have a conversation about the needs of girls and the revolutionization of the world they grow up in. It is stressful and dangerous to be female, from the womb to the tomb, and it is essential that action is taken to follow up on the promises of countless politicians to abolish sexism. It is clear the women’s rights movement goes beyond simply gaining legal rights – it is the fight for the right to feel safe and valued as a girl, and it is a right that is far too often denied.

 

Photo courtesy of Ben Steinberger