Girls, Boys and the Real Differences between Them

By Owen, Jonathan | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), October 9, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Girls, Boys and the Real Differences between Them

Owen, Jonathan, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)

Why equality is a distant dream Discrimination is still rife, says study. By Jonathan Owen

Britain's next generation of women is trapped in a cycle of inequality, with teenage girls condemned to come off second-best to boys, despite decades of campaigning for equality, according to a major new report published this week.

Although they have greater expectations and ambition than previous generations, young women are destined to earn less, have smaller pensions, and be more likely to suffer violent abuse than their male counterparts. Any notion they have of getting the same treatment and opportunities as boys is a "distant dream".

Drawing on new research into the views of thousands of boys and girls aged between 12 and 18, from the UK, India and Africa, the report, "Because I am a Girl" by children's charity Plan UK, states: "Our families and schools are handing gender inequality, and violence against girls, down through the generations."

Girls are conditioned to expect less of themselves than boys, and doing better than their male peers at school does not translate into future rewards - women still earn up to 22 per cent less than men in most countries in the world, including Britain.

Prospects will not improve unless boys and men join the fight for equality, change their mindsets and become more involved in family life, according to the report.

It reveals how sexist attitudes are deeply entrenched among today's children, and that girls suffer a "double whammy" of discrimination due to their age and sex - leaving them at "the bottom of the social ladder".

Fewer than half of British boys agreed that it would be good to have the same number of women as men leading top companies. And British girls are twice as likely as boys to clean the house and help with the washing and cooking. Although the vast majority of girls in the UK think that boys should help in the same way, only 71 per cent of their male peers agree.

Almost two-thirds of UK boys think that a woman's most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family - something less than half of girls agree with. And 39 per cent of British boys think that men should have the "final word" at home - compared with 20 per cent of girls.

There are some signs for optimism, though, with 97 per cent of children saying that "parents must take equal responsibility for their children".

"Old fashioned, outdated opinions" stand in the way of equality, according to Benjamin Farnes, 16, from Winchester. "People who feel our ability is best suited for particular stereotypical roles are just ignorant," he said.

While levels of inequality are worse in many countries, Britain's gender divide has widened in recent years, taking it down from ninth place in the World Economic Forum's gender gap index in 2006 to 15th in 2010.

British women have only 9,100 in their pension pots on average, while men have 52,800. And they have an average retirement income of 12,900 - far less than the 19,400 that men can look forward to. In the workplace, there are more than 5,000 women "missing" from top jobs in the UK - judges, chief constables, FTSE directors, and MPs. And while women account for the majority of full-time teachers, most secondary school head teachers are men.

Globally, 150 million girls and young women under 18 have been raped or sexually assaulted. And the report by Plan UK warns: "One of the most destructive aspects of inequality between the sexes - the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior - fuels male violence towards them."

In the UK, teenage girls between 16 and 19 are most at risk of domestic violence. British attitudes are not far removed from those in countries where girls are routinely subjected to physical and mental abuse. Almost one in three British boys view women politicians as being inferior to men - a similar proportion to the 34 per cent in Rwanda sharing this view.

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