Emily Milton Smith is the 20th State Commissioner of Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT and shares this piece.
More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the broader impact the pandemic has had on girls and young women is a discussion we need to have.
First, we need to consider how gender equality has fallen behind where it was prior to the pandemic. Research by McKinsey shows that COVID-19 and its economic fallout are having a regressive effect on gender equality, including with women’s jobs being 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s jobs. While men make up 39% of global employment, their jobs account for 54% of the losses.
Meanwhile, COVID has significantly increased the burden of unpaid work, such as domestic duties, home-schooling, caregiving, etc. on women who already disproportionately carried the load.
What impact will job losses alongside additional unpaid work have on the young girls of today? And how can we equip them to address and overcome this inequality in a complex and digital world?
The focus on young girls’ ability to navigate the world today is key to any nation’s future prosperity. Support a young girl, and you also raise up the community around her.
But they need support.
Research shows that of girls entering high school in Australia, 75 per cent believe they will “have every opportunity” to become a leader when they grow up. However, this falls to only 57 per cent of girls by the time they leave school. Furthermore, 40 per cent of those girls say that gender is the biggest barrier to their chances of becoming a leader. This crushing statistic speaks to the seemingly omnipresent negative pressure on young shoulders who live in a world that tells them they aren’t enough.
We need to arm girls and young women with the skills they need to have and maintain strong self-esteem, a positive self-image, and to know the power of their agency — and use it to make change.
In this complex post-pandemic world, girls and young women need the skills core to the Girl Guides philosophy – resilience and adaptability, problem solving and determination.
During lockdowns, the Girl Guides programs were adapted to be delivered online to continue to provide access to opportunities for developing self-worth, leadership, resilience, connection and friendship.
When we focus on increasing wellbeing in girls, it works. From a recent study, we uncovered that after only one year of being involved in Girl Guides, girls aged 8 – 17 reported an increase in their wellbeing (average score of 4.31 out of 5), resilience and strong regulation skills. And for teenagers, after three years of Girl Guides involvement, they experienced an 11% increase in their wellbeing.
Girl Guides’ focus on citizenship inspires young minds to look outside of themselves and understand how they can impact the world around them, shape it and make it better.
More than 1,000,000 Australians have been Girl Guides. This outward focus inspires a sense of self that is greater than physicality, it focuses and shines a light on character, builds confidence in what one can do and be for others and what can be achieved through collaboration with others. These are the building blocks of resilience, and the cornerstone of strong empathetic leadership – the type of leadership the world is crying out for to face future challenges head on.
We’ve experienced a collective shock, but we must ensure that our young girls bounce back from this in a way that protects their self-esteem, self-image and confidence – our future literally depends on it.