One of the challenges when running a global organisation that counts 10 million girls and young women from 146 different countries across the world as its membership, is how you represent all those individuals who come from such vastly different backgrounds and cultures with one voice that they can all relate to.
Whether you are an avid reader of world news or you just give it a cursory glance, you are likely to be left with the impression that we are a world and people divided. However, in my role as CEO of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), I am reminded on a daily basis of what an inaccurate picture that gives of the world we live in.
In a poll to coincide with International Women’s Day and the global launch of our #GreatGirlLeaders campaign, we asked both girls and boys about their attitudes towards female empowerment. We also asked how equal they believe the workplace is for women, both in terms of pay and career and leadership opportunities, and what extra support needs to be offered to girls to help them achieve genuine equality.
From Algeria to Russia, over 3,000 young people from 60 countries responded, with the overwhelming majority (67%) citing concerns and perceptions about their gender as affecting their confidence and preventing them from following their dreams.
Over two in five young people felt that girls and young women are held back from leadership roles because of a lack of support to help girls study and access male-dominated careers, such as STEM. One in four believed a lack of appropriate role models and access to higher salaries was an issue. All agreed more needed to be done to help young women realise their dreams.
As the voices of our members show us, despite the myriad and often contrasting cultures, they are united behind the reason they feel held back and unable to pursue their dreams, their gender and the attitude of others towards it.
The sobering views of young people towards gender equality are borne out in the world of work. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, women around the world on average earn just over half of what men earn despite working longer hours, taking paid and unpaid work into account.
The number of women in senior positions also remains low, with only four countries in the world having equal numbers of male and female legislators, senior officials and managers, although 95 countries now have as many – if not more – women educated at university level.
Of course, significant strides have been made for women over recent generations – but the world of work that girls and boys will move into over the coming decade remains beset by sharp gender inequalities and it is an issue that permeates across the world. According to a McKinsey Global Institute Report from September 2015, it could cost the global GDP $12 trillion if women’s equality is not advanced by 2025.
At WAGGGS, we are trying to address this issue head on through our flagship leadership programmes. Female empowerment has been at the heart of our work for over a century and our unique training enables participants to explore themes such as personal development, leadership, change and transformation in the community in a safe space. Our experiential, hands-on approach to learn by doing gives girls the skills and confidence they need to go out and make their voice heard.
This week for instance, 12 young people from around the world will be travelling to New York to represent WAGGGS at the UN Conference on The Commission on the Status of Women to share their thoughts and opinions with world leaders on the some of the biggest challenges affecting girls and young women worldwide.
Later this month, 38 young women from 28 countries will be developing their global leadership skills at one of our flagship development events, the Helen Storrow Seminar. The seminar addresses some of the most important problems in modern society, with a focus on environmental issues. It gives young women the skills and inspiration they need to make their voices heard at community and national level to help make the world a more sustainable place.
Our #GreatGirlLeaders campaign, which showcases the lives of seven women who have all broken down gender barriers and challenged stereotypes in their chosen careers and credit their confidence to do so in part to the skills and opportunities they had during their time as Guides or Girl Scouts, is testament to the difference we can make to young girls lives.
Yet just as everyone the world over – boys and men included –would benefit if women were more economically empowered, we all have a role to play in making it happen.
So if you are not female, please do not turn away from us on International Women’s Day because you think it does not relate to you. It does. Regardless of our gender or where we live, we have much more in common than we realise. The sooner we all start to recognise that and work together to solve it, the quicker we can all start to reap the benefits.
To find out more about WAGGGS #GreatGirlLeaders campaign, please visit www.wagggs.org/iwd, or add your voice and share your own role model stories with us @wagggs_world.