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Why aren’t we listening?

This week Plan International released Hear Our Voices, an investigation into the experiences of boys and girls in schools worldwide. Plan spoke directly to 7000 adolescent girls and boys in 11 countries around the world, to hear their stories in their own words. The findings are numerous and comprehensive and I became increasingly overwhelmed while reading them. Here are a few, to get us started: 

  • “In West Africa, 30% of girls say they never or seldom feel as safe as boys on their way to school”
  • “Only 42% of girls said they always participate as leaders in school groups as much as boys”

Perhaps the most disturbing statistic, and the one I would like to draw attention to today is the following:

1 in 3 girls reported that they never speak up and say what they think around boys”

Let’s take a moment to reflect on that statistic. One third of the girls they interviewed never speaks up and says what they think around boys, and I’m sure the figure is even lower for speaking up around parents or guardians. This might be because they are laughed at, or feel embarrassed, or made to feel like their opinions aren’t valuable.

The thought that girls would feel their opinions aren’t valuable makes me feel extremely sad for the future of our world. If 1/3 girls doesn’t feel safe enough to speak up now, what happens as they make the transition into adulthood where vulnerabilities become more pronounced and the threat of violence is enough to make any woman second guess her words. This points to a systemic trend of people not listening to girls voices. Why aren’t people listening? Are they afraid of the inevitable societal change that will come if they actually have to start listening to everyone?

I do not want to sit here and bemoan other people’s cultural practices from my comfortable chair in Switzerland without mentioning the silencing of girls’ voices that happened, and happens, in my own life and experiences. Growing up in Canada, I certainly had an easier experience than most girls, but even my friends and I weren’t immune to hearing things like “girls really shouldn’t be doing so and so” or feel talked over in conversation by our male peers (what many refer to as mansplaining). This still happens to me on a regular basis and is such a great source of frustration. Everyone can do something to make little girls, and boys, feel valued and loved. If a child comes to you with a problem, don’t dismiss it. Listen to them, and treat all concerns equally. Boys who feel valued and safe are perhaps better equipped with skills to make schools and homes a safer space for girls, too. You can make a world of difference by listening!

Studies like this show how important spaces like this blog are. Make Every Woman Count’s Blog is a space for anyone to tell their own story. Please join us in making this possible and consider becoming a contributor today, no one is too young and no story too small. We want to hear from you!

By Genevieve Hill



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