THE BLOG
06/03/2015 12:59 GMT | Updated 06/05/2015 06:59 BST

It's So Important for Girls to Have a Safe Space Where They Can Explore the Difficulties They Face

As a female Biomedical Science student in a male-dominated industry, I'm a vocal supporter of the need for women's achievements to be celebrated and given the respect they deserve. The theme for International Women's Day 2015 is Make it Happen, reflecting the need to move the fight for gender equality forward - for action to replace words - so we can bring about real and meaningful change. But how do we do this?

As a member of Girlguiding's youth Advocate panel, I'm part of a group of 14-25 year-olds who discuss issues affecting girls and seek change. We're calling on all politicians to listen to girls' concerns ahead of this year's general election through our Girls Matter campaign.

Girls Matter features eight calls for change, including making girls' rights a priority in international development, demanding that schools take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual bullying and harassment, and empowering girls and young women to speak out on the impact of media sexism and stereotyping.

One of the biggest challenges facing girls and young women today in the UK is abuse and controlling behaviour in relationships. Girlguiding research shows that over a third of girls aged 11 to 21 know girls and young women their age who have experienced control or bullying from a partner. This is not acceptable.

Girls Matter calls for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) to be made compulsory in all schools, and to update the curriculum to include healthy relationships and sexual consent. Making SRE compulsory would also educate boys and girls about the prevalence of sexual violent against women, including female genital mutilation (FGM), which is another major concern for women not just abroad, but also in the UK.

Another action we can take is on media pressure and airbrushing. I see the effects of these issues all too clearly through my work as a Girlguiding Peer Educator, running sessions for girls aged seven and over on sensitive topics. It's so important for girls to have a safe space where they can explore difficulties they face, and gain advice through peer-to-peer interaction. Often girls are uncomfortable discussing things like body confidence with adults, and therefore don't ask for help.

As a Peer Educator I've seen the impact of media stereotyping on young girls, and how it can massively affect their confidence. When a seven-year-old girl is so uncomfortable in her looks she doesn't want to go to her dance lessons, something seriously needs to change.

We've come a long way since International Women's Day was established at the start of the twentieth century. However, there is undeniably still work to be done to ensure that barriers are removed from girls' lives both in the UK and around the world. Equality should be a way of life, not just an ideal.

By this time next year, I'd love to be able to say that all girls are body confident, that all women have their achievements and desires respected, that everyone, man or woman, is safe from abusive relationships and sexual violence. Everyone needs to take action if this is to happen.