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In April 2021, we launched The Big Ask survey. This was a national consultation exercise with children in England to hear about their aspirations and worries for the future. We received over 550,000 responses, making this the largest ever survey of children in England.

We received 51% of responses from girls. From their responses, it was clear that girls are extremely ambitious, and have a range of aspirations that they wish to pursue in the future.

Today on International Women’s Day, we can celebrate that girls of all ages are amitious to succeed in lots of career paths:

I want to be a brain surgeon and help people!!’’ – Girl, 11

I want to be police dog handler when I am older’ – Girl, 10

I want to be a marine biologist to save and explore sea life’ – Girl, 11

I want to be a make-up artist’ – Girl, 12

I want to have a good job by doing well in school and […] being a mathematician’ – Girl, 8

I want to be a zoologist when I grow up’ – Girl, 8

I want to be a police cadet’ – Girl, 13

I want to be a teacher, a marshal art student, a detective, to travel the world, a historian, a tennis player and so much more’ – Girl, 16

I am going to be a surgeon’ – Girl, 13

I want to be an author when I grow up’ – Girl, age not given

I want to be a chef when I grow up and own my own bakery’ – Girl, 10

Girls explained how important positive role models are in their lives – for achieving their goals, as well as building their own self-confidence. As we heard from one girl:

‘Having the right role models to inspire them and […] having good teachers to motivate them to do their best so they have lots of options in terms of further and higher education and job opportunities’ – Girl, 16

Girls highlighted how this is particularly the case for tackling some of the gender-based stereotypes that continue to circulate in society surrounding gender roles and aspirations. As one girl said:

‘I think that the stigma in girls in science and maths is very toxic. From very young, as a girl I didn’t see any girls taking on that career path and just thought that girls couldn’t do this. I now know that I want to go into the chemistry field’ – Girl, 14

As we emerge from the disruptions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital that we put effective policies in place to support girls in achieving their ambitions, and leading happy and healthy lives.

It is good news that the majority of girls are happy with their lives. However, fewer girls than boys are happy – 53% of girls, compared to 64% of boys. Girls explained in The Big Ask that they face a range of challenges and barriers in their lives, which can prevent them from achieving their goals.

A concerning number of girls are unhappy with their mental health. Girls were nearly twice as likely as boys to say that they were unhappy with their mental health – 25% of girls, compared to 13% of boys. Concerningly, 40% of girls aged 16-17 said they were unhappy with their mental health.

Girls are unhappy about what they perceive as a lack of mental health support – both at school, and in the community. Many girls expressed how they feel they have ‘no one to talk to,’ and that even when they do share concerns, they are often not taken seriously. As one 12-year-old girl said, ‘when we show signs of depression or anxiety, we are told to pull ourselves together.’

Girls identified a range of factors that contribute to poor mental health, including pressure at school, harassment, and gender-based violence, social media, and the Covid-19 pandemic. As one 14-year-old girl explained, girls are ‘constantly battling with pressure from all sides of life, such as body image, academic pressure, social pressure and even economic pressure. This prevents us […] progressing in life.’

We know from The Big Ask the issues facing girls and the ideas they have for how we can help. We will continue to ensure girls voices and needs are heard and will advocate for the support they need. We want to celebrate girls across the country, their ambition and desire to achieve great things, and to help them have happy futures.

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