Kayla is thirteen years old. She attends a local comprehensive school in a small community in a South Wales valley. She’s considering a career as a hairdresser, or maybe a pop star. She’s an average girl, from an average place. Does she have a voice?
Girls like Kayla have inspired me for many years to do more to support young women in Wales, and further afield across the UK. Often going unheard and their needs unrecognised, too many young women are not given the opportunities they need to grow into confident, resilient, well-equipped women. Indeed, we often wait until girls become women to tell them they can be leaders, higher-wage earners, community activists and ‘have it all’.
For me this work is a personal mission. After working for the Girl Scouts of America in the USA, and subsequently becoming an ambassador for US-organisation Girl Rising, I knew I had to do more for girls closer to home. Very few girl-focused organisations and initiatives exist in Wales, and yet the problems facing young women are rising: more girls in Wales are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) than boys, which present longer-term problems too, as girls become locked into cycles of early parenthood and poverty.
Raising awareness of girls’ rights and needs is key, and so my organisation Full Circle Education, a Cardiff-based social enterprise, launched a Girls’ Rights Manifesto at our ‘Keeping It Equal’ event last month with 500 young women in attendance from across South Wales and the West of England.
The manifesto is a declaration of what we want to achieve for girls in Wales, and is a step towards my goal of growing the services for girls in Wales and raising awareness of the barriers that still exist for young women in one of the richest nations on the planet.
You could be forgiven for thinking that we don’t need to really talk about girls’ rights in the UK, after all, our girls can go to school, can access healthcare, can go on to university, and make choices about their lives, unlike the 62 million girls around the world who don’t even receive an education.
But at the same time, the UK has the highest teenage birth and abortion rates in Western Europe, and only 6% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female. Almost a third of girls experience unwanted sexual touching in UK schools, and 1 in 3 teenage girls report having experienced sexual violence from a boyfriend.
At Full Circle we want to shout about these challenges, and encourage others to do the same. We’ll be asking organisations to support our manifesto, and taking it to the Welsh Government to ask ministers to pledge their support.
Our manifesto says that girls should have:
• A better education
• A voice
• A safe community
• A fulfilling future
• Freedom of choice
We want every young person to have access to equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their gender, to ensure the UK is a prosperous and fair nation. To learn more about the manifesto or to pledge your support please get in touch with Full Circle.
Nikki Giant is the founder of Full Circle Education and ambassador for US organisation Girl Rising.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.Linkedin.com/in/NikkiGiant