Girls and young women worldwide consistently feel excluded from politics, according to a new global study.
Plan International in the survey of 29,000 girls and women aged 15-24, from 29 countries, found that respondents face significant barriers when taking part in political activities and feel poorly represented by the politicians elected to serve them.
The international development organisation also revealed that only half (50 per cent) believe that people in their community view it as acceptable for girls and young women to engage in political activities. One in five (19 per cent) have personally been discouraged from doing so.
Just one in three (34 per cent) think politicians take actions on the issues that matter to them and only one in 10 (11 per cent) of those surveyed are happy with their leaders’ decisions on the issues they care about.
Fewer than half (39 per cent) think politicians are representative of the communities they serve.
The report called Equal Power Now: Girls, Young Women and Political Participation, is released ahead of International Day of the Girl and is based on a survey of adolescent girls and young women from countries ranging from Kenya to the USA to Brazil.
In-depth interviews were also carried out with girls and young women in a further 18 countries.
It found that a clear majority care significantly about politics, with 97 per cent of those surveyed agreeing that participating in politics is important and 83 per cent saying they have personally done so.
But despite this, girls and young women are frequently shut out of political processes because of both their age and gender, with one in three (31 per cent) saying they do not feel politics is open to their engagement or participation.
Nearly half (45 per cent) of those surveyed think politicians in their country fail to understand their views. Amongst those who belong to an ethnic minority group, identify as LGBTQ+ or having a disability, this figure rises to 59 per cent.
Stephen Omollo, Plan International’s Chief Executive, said: “Our research, which represents the views of thousands of girls and young women across countries with different cultures, income levels and civic contexts, has found that overwhelmingly, girls are political. But globally, they are still being denied the right to shape the decisions which impact their lives most”.
“As children and young people, they are being wrongly dismissed as being ‘too young’ to add value. At the same time, they continue to be held back by deep-rooted gender inequalities which mean that girls and young women face more and different obstacles to access decision-making spaces than boys and young men. These challenges are compounded even further if girls also come from poverty, from an ethnic minority, or identify as LGBTQ+”, Stephen added.
Globally, political leadership and representation remain heavily dominated by men with only one in four (26 per cent) national parliamentarians being women and only 1.0 per cent women under 30.
Of those surveyed one in three (32 per cent) say that they do not see any politicians that inspire them to participate in politics.
Another 40 per cent believe that female politicians suffer abuse and intimidation and that they are judged for how they look or dress.
In the words of Anna, 23, from Germany, “I feel that men and boys are encouraged just by nature to be in those spaces whereas as a female, you feel that space isn't made for you.”
Aurora, 20, from Ecuador, said: “For generations we have been sold this image… if they make me close my eyes and imagine a political person... I would have immediately thought of a man with a tie, because those are the images that are thrown at us…we don't immediately see a woman or a young woman. So, it's hard for people to believe that a woman… can manage to be in these spaces. It's a kind of behaviour that we have learnt from generation to generation.”
Despite this, a majority (56 per cent) of girls who are of voting age in their country have voted in a local or national election and one in five (20 per cent) say they can see themselves standing for political office in future.