On International Women’s Day let’s not forget about children

This International Women’s Day its important to remember that gender inequality is not just an issue which affects adults, but it also has significant implications for children’s welfare and development. At The Children’s Society we work on a whole host of issues ranging from children’s subjective well-being to child sexual exploitation and poverty. In almost all areas of our work with children we find that there is a gender dimension which must be analysed and addressed if we are to be truly effective in closing the gender gap

Gender inequality affects girl’s childhoods

Over the past ten years, The Children’s Society has asked 60,000 children in the UK about what matters to them in their lives. We found that girls have significantly lower subjective well being than boys. In four items in our study – appearance, time use, friends and health – young males were found to be more satisfied than females. This was particularly the case with appearance, where almost twice as many females (17%) as males (9%) had low levels of satisfaction.

Our study also compared findings in England with 13 other countries, where in some countries girl’s satisfaction with their appearance is as high, or higher than that of boys. Girls in England ranked bottom in terms of happiness with their body confidence, appearance and self-confidence compared to girls in every other country surveyed, with the exception of South Korea.

In a bid to clamp down on the negative impact of bullying and other major issues affecting children in schools, The Children’s Society is urging the Government make it a legal requirement for schools in England to provide counselling to pupils to bring it in line with Wales and Northern Ireland.

Women’s inequality impacts children’s lives

Some of the Government’s welfare policies have a disproportionate impact on women. We know for example, that lone parent families and particularly single mothers with children are likely to be affected by the benefit cap – which is the overall limit on benefit entitlements for non-working households. The cap plans to be reduced from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 everywhere else through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.  The Government’s impact assessment suggests that around 64% of claimants who are likely to have their benefit reduced by the cap will be single females but only around 12% will be single men.

As a result, families will be forced to move to reduce their housing costs or will have to find work of at least 16 hours a week – so that they qualify for an exemption from the cap. Neither may be in the best interests of children in the family, especially for parents with very young children.  The cap does not take the needs of children and single parents into account and this is why we are urging the Government to reconsider its decision reduce the cap on benefits.

Too often girls remain victims of abuse

The Children’s Society’s analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales has identified that females aged 16 and 17 are at the highest risk of being a victim of a sexual offence – with nearly 1 in 10 (8.6 %) of them reporting that they have experienced a sexual offence in the last 12 months. If these findings were reflected across the population this would equate to around 50,000 16 and 17 year old girls who had experienced a sexual offence in the last year in England and Wales.

Much more needs to be done to prevent the abuse and exploitation of girls – and in particular older teenage girls. Child Abduction Warning Notices are a critical preventative measure to disrupt contact between a vulnerable young person and an adult who may be at risk of causing them harm. However, we are concerned that these cannot normally be used to protect 16 and 17 year olds and believe that the law needs to be changed to allow this.

More clearly needs to be done to ensure that girl’s happiness with their body confidence and appearance is increased, that women’s unequal treatment in the welfare system is addressed and that the abuse and exploitation of older teenage girls is prevented.  On International Women’s Day, The Children’s Society will be playing its part in influencing action to accelerate gender parity.

Join our campaign today – ask the Government to protect 16 and 17 year olds from exploitation.

 

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Lucy Gregg
Lucy works in The Children’s Society’s policy team where her portfolio covers child poverty and inequality. The Children’s Society is a national charity that campaigns for changes to laws affecting children and young people as well as runs services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable.

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