Plan International UK has recently released a report finding that Manchester, among with Blackpool and Middlesbrough, is one of the worst places in the UK to be a girl.
The study in collaboration with the University of Hull found that a girls' quality of life varied greatly depending on the area she lives. The report was based on the 346 local authorities in England and Wales and how much girls were able to "fully enjoy their rights" based on 5 comparative factors. These factors were; the levels of child poverty, rates of teenage conception, employment or training, life expectancy and the rates of GCSE passes and the number of young people not in education.
Major Northern cities and towns; Hull, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Manchester's neighbouring city Salford, all fell short in the recent study. These results although disheartening, are not entirely surprising, working class areas will always fall short on statistics when faced with middle class heavy weight southern areas such as Surrey. Which no surprises came out on top. However, Manchester has never just been a simple city in which one can analyse quickly for fast results. It is complex, with many different social layers which must be slowly examined, over time, in order to really say what life is like for it's 2.6 million inhabitants.
"How can you compare Blackpool, where there are wider pockets of deprivation, to a suburb in say Buckinghamshire? There's really no comparison," says Jane Kenyon from Manchester-based organisation, Girls Out Loud. "In areas where there are more instances of poverty like Salford and Greater Manchester, you'll find girls who come from three to four generations of working class. They tend to have no immediate role models and as a result no real aspirations outside of what they know. They've never met female engineers, businesswomen, journalists etc., so they tend to turn to reality TV for role models instead. A lot of this issue has to do with social mobility and a lack thereof," Jane explains.
With the comparative factor of rates of teenage conception, Manchester remains in the top 20 nationally for conceptions among 15-17-year-olds. However what the report fails to discuss, is the fact that teenage pregnancies in Manchester have in fact dropped by more than 15% in just a year. A dramatic drop, and a clear indication of social change and development in the quality of life for girls. Councillor Donna Martin, cabinet member for children, schools and families said: "This is really positive news, a massive reduction, and a reflection of the investment made in education and engagement. It also show the effectiveness of the joined up approach of all the agencies working with young people across the borough. Of course, Surrey has the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the UK. Am I implying that teenage pregnancy rates are directly related to the difference in class communities? Of course. Do I believe that a young girl in Surrey is happier than a young girl in Moss Side? Absolutely not. There is nothing to say a child in a 1 bedroom flat in Gorton is any less, or even more so, happier than a child in a 3 bedroom house in Ashtead. Which you can buy for the reasonable price of £775,000.
So how much can we rely on reports such as the one released by Plan International UK to show the progression of the "full enjoyment of rights" within young girls. Does a report such as this show social change, does it show the vast improvements for the lives of women and their daughters in vastly populated urban areas, with high unemployment? I don't think it does.
It is my belief that these studies of course have an important role in helping young women receive the support and sometimes funding in which they need to improve their local communities. However, these studies ultimately, are damaging to the young women that live in these communities, more so than ever in the age of digital media. As a 19 year old woman, if I see an article telling me that where I live is the worst place to live in the UK, more often than not, I am going to believe it. To all those people that work for charities and programs that are creating and pushing for social change in these areas, it is not only dismissive of their efforts, but it is insulting.
I hope that after releasing these reports, Plan International UK puts it's efforts into speaking to women in these "low performing" areas, to really find out whether it is the worst place in the UK to be a girl. In Greater Manchester where there are 5,586 asylum seekers, who have come to England to escape unimaginable horror, I would be inclined to say they would believe there are worse places to be a girl.
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