COVID-19 and the shift to being more online has led more young women to access content from empowering and diverse role models they identify with, according to a new report released today by Plan International Australia in conjunction with the International Day of the Girl.
This year’s theme, ‘Digital generation. Our generation,’ is being observed by various charities and organisations around the world over the next 24 hours.
More than 500 young females aged between 16 – 25 were interviewed in the report, which aims to highlights the importance of diverse female representation across all industries.
The report, titled Represent Us! How diverse role models can transform girls’ lives revealed that 33 percent of participants said increased social media time during the pandemic has made it easier to find diverse and like-minded role models they identify with.
60 percent of respondents said they found it hard to find role models that reflected their diversities when they were growing up. Almost a quarter stated that they had no role models to look up to at all.
Shamsiya Hussainpour, journalist and Plan International Australian youth activist, said “Growing up as a hijabi, I didn’t see many hijabi representatives in the media and it made me feel insignificant because I thought people like me just didn’t have the same chance or opportunities as others.”
“We connect with those whom we can see our own reflections in – when the reflection is not there, the connection isn’t either. This is why diversity in every field is important. It took me a lot of courage to pursue my career as a journalist so I can be a role model for many others like myself.”
The report also found 66 percent of young females claiming that if they were presented with more role models of diverse cultural backgrounds, gender identities, or disabilities in the past, it would have had a strong impact on their self-confidence.
More than half of respondents said it would have improved their career choices and education.
Among the respondents who identified as LGBTIQ+, 82 percent said that more diversity in female role models would have had an impact on their self-confidence growing up.
66 percent of respondents with a disability said that seeing more diversity in role models and seeing themselves represented in the famous people they admired would have positively impacted on their self-confidence.
Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia, believes the old adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ cannot be overstated.
“For girls and young women in all their diversities, the power of role models is in seeing themselves represented and knowing that they, too, can have a seat at the table,” she said.
“In our formative years, one of the ways we all get more confident and comfortable with our differences is through seeing those differences in our mentors, idols and heroes – the people who get our attention and take up media space.”
“While workplaces are becoming more diverse, when it comes to diversity amongst the people in power and those with influence, we still have a long way to go.”
The International Day of the Girl was inaugurated in 2011 by the UN, after years of advocacy by Plan International, the world’s leading girls’ rights organisation.
Author, presenter and political commentator Jamilia Rizvi launched the report over the weekend, alongside comedian and author Tanya Hennessey, AFLW star player Akec Makur Chuot and the founder of MoneyGirl social enterprise, Mariam Mohammed.
“When people from underrepresented communities see themselves reflected in a person with power,” Jamilia Rizvi said. “Someone making decisions and with a seat at the table – the consequences of that are incredible. These trailblazers not only help inspire our dreams, they help us carve out a path to make those dreams a reality.”
“I became disabled myself in 2018. The shock and transition to a new way of living, and a new body to live in, was severe. I believe it would have been easier had I had greater access to disabled role models as a child.”
Makur Chuot, the first AFLW player of African descent to be drafted into the league, remarked on the way playing professional AFL football had changed her life.
The Richmond Football Club player said she wanted to give all girls – especially those from diverse backgrounds – the self-belief that they too could follow their dreams.
“The more young African girls they see, the more Asian girls they see being represented on a level playing field normalises it,” she said. “The more communities reflected in the AFL, the easier it becomes.”
Social enterprise founder Mariam Mohammed, whose organisation, MoneyGirl provides financial literacy to women, said seeing figures like Greens politician Mehreen Faruqi changed her views about what was possible for her, and what was not.
“And until I saw Antoinette Lattouff, I did not think women of colour could go into Australian television,” she said. “Me – with all my privileges – felt that I did not belong. That’s the power of diverse and inclusive representation. It’s not a checkbox. It’s personal.”
Meanwhile, UN Women Australia has been busy spreading the #EmpowerMoves dance on TikTok — a sequence which sees girls show off their strength to support a future that is safe, equal and empowered for them.
UN Women Australia CEO Simone Clarke believes dance is a good way of bringing people together.
“The challenges girls face are unrelenting, some we could have never imagined, but they are resilient and deserve to celebrate their strength,” she said.
“When the world is safe and equal for girls – we will dance for joy. Until then, girls can dance to be fierce, dance to be powerful, and dance to show their voice for the equality they deserve”.
Tara Ford, the Chief Creative Officer of The Monkeys, who helped build the dance campaign, said the #EmpowerMoves video is designed to be both uplifting and thought provoking.
“While the combination of dance and self-defence is by no means a solution to the wider problem, it’s the beginning of an important cultural conversation for girls,” she said.
“A positive step towards not only personal confidence, but a greater awareness of the larger societal issues many girls and women face every day”.