Gender stereotyping continues to be strongly evident in all aspects of girls' lives, with societal views and lack of awareness conditioning young girls to behave in a certain way in order to fit the mould of how a girl "should" be.
Why is it that after so many years of campaigning for gender equality, girls are still expected to be subordinate to their male counterparts for fear of appearing "bossy", "fiery" or "pushy"?
We recently attended the 61st Commission on the status of women at the United Nations Headquarters under the theme 'Women's Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work'. The fact that this topic was being discussed shows that girls have started challenging the personal and global perceptions of women, and are working towards the 50:50 world that we deserve.
Prime examples of these stereotypes include pink for girls, blue for boys, astronaut versus princess and "Action man" versus "Angelina Ballerina". We are caged by an unconscious bias before we are even old enough to realise. Even the objects around us subconsciously teach that girls are made for fragile careers, hobbies and aspirations whilst boys are often linked to strength, ability and power.
We recently conducted our own 'mini survey' to find out if these stereotypes really do inhibit the lives of young girls.
We asked a group of girls aged 4-11 to tell us which gender they thought was most appropriate for an image of an army uniform, a football, a builder and a dancer. Sadly, their initial responses conformed to these ideas. However, the picture is not quite as bleak as we first thought. After explaining to the girls that they had a right to feel unrestricted by stereotypes and encouraging their ability to pursue any career, we were delighted to return to an entirely different picture 6 months later.
The girls' perceptions had changed entirely. The colour pink became gender neutral, along with football, dancing and even being an astronaut. In many single-sex schools like ours, gender equality is firmly on the table. Stereotyping seems a thing of the past to girls who pursue any subject that they love - whether it be in STEM, humanities or the arts. The challenge for us is how to launch this stereotype-free zone in which we have spent our education on a global scale.
Our time at the United Nations taught us that occupational gender segregation often stems from a lack of education on gender stereotypes within schools, leading to girls feeling that they are unsuitable for certain positions. This is primarily due to the fact that strong leaders in the media are often male, pale and stale. Strong female role models are urgently needed.
The patchwork of most young girls' bedrooms is often layered with posters of female pop icons, showcasing the "ideal" body image, yet we rarely celebrate a female mathematical mind in the same way. Year on year, female ability is being wasted due to a lack of confidence. The Girls' Day School Trust (the largest network of independent girls' schools in the UK) reports that girls do at least as well as boys in STEM subjects, up to the point where they choose routes out of them. When 50% of women leave STEM by mid-career due to hostile work environments, ability is being wasted. Ability, which could lead to the next great scientific breakthrough.
In order to break the glass ceiling, create the desired female representation and establish a necessary support network for women in male-dominated sectors, we need female pioneers. These pioneers must be women who will face the prevalent barriers, overcome stereotypes, feel the fear of judgement but still do it anyway.
Galvanising the support of men and boys in the fight to end gender stereotyping is also essential. How can we achieve 100% of our goal if we have the support of only 50 % of the population? It simply isn't practical. The challenge is that there is a fundamental fear of feminism. Being a feminist means being an equalist, yet even after reclaiming the word, it still holds such a stigma. Men and women alike still flee from being labelled as particularly radical but what is radical about equality?
Our time at the UN revealed that feminism is not just a matter of social justice. Yes, it is about equality, but faced with climate change, global poverty and international inequality of income, it is time to look beyond what is right and think about what is practical. It is necessary to see that a full representation of women is crucial in order to tackle the greatest problems the world faces today.
As young women seeking to enter careers in politics and international relations, we too face the same gender stereotypes as women across the world. But we envisage a future where men and women, globally, unite to conquer the intangible obstacles women face.
Attending the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations was a life changing experience which has enabled us to overcome personal barriers and the stereotypes we have experienced in the past.
As feminists of the future, we plan to spend the rest of our lives helping others to do the same.