The Future Is a Girl

“Are you wearing a bra?” a 10-year-old girl hears this question and looks down. Sometimes she runs to her room, sometimes she replies honestly that “no, not yet.” The next time she avoids her uncle, grandmother, neighbour, because she doesn’t know how to react to similar comments: whether to treat them as a really stupid joke or ask her parents (if they are supportive) to talk to an adult who comments on their appearance.

They start to change. And they see that the environment notices it. Often in the sexual sense.

The results of tests and interviews with girls are sad. Already 10-year-olds say they are too fat. They start to compare themselves with their friends, idols, instagramers. They notice that beauty matters because it gives them social acceptance. They notice that the environment begins to pay attention to their bodies. That’s when they hear these embarrassing comments from “uncles” about growing breasts or changing proportions, and they hear their mothers in front of the mirror: “My thighs are too thick, my legs are too thin, my stomach shouldn’t look like that...”

Like it or not, empowering girls is one of the greatest social challenges today. It is in fifth place among the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Because gender equality is not only a universal human right, it is also the foundation of a sustainable world. The UN knows that empowering girls will have a positive impact on the global economy and politics. It knows that without gender mainstreaming, equality policy, and without creating a safe space for girls, there is no better future.

Meanwhile, in Poland, 80 percent of girls consider themselves useless. They say that they are not needed, unnecessary. There are harmful stereotypes behind them: that they are conformist, average (this is how they are perceived when they follow teachers’ instructions), that they are diligent, but less intelligent than boys, that they are inferior at mathematics (this stereotype is repeated so often that girls start to believe in it themselves), that they are less digitally competent, that only the pretty ones will be successful, that they should be well-mannered, less hysterical, less energetic, calm, and above all – more polite, more diligent than boys, and perfect. Perfect, because only then will they meet the expectations of teachers and parents. Girls are socialised from an early age to please others. They see boys being encouraged to lead. They have struggle with cultural norms and gender discrimination from an early age.

This was shown, for example, by the first comprehensive report on menstruation in Poland, prepared by the Kulczyk Foundation. As much as 42% of the surveyed women admitted that in their family home menstruation is or was simply not talked about. You can find out all this by talking to girls themselves.

How is it possible that we raise them to be independent, strong women, that we build their self-confidence in childhood, we show that there are no obstacles and barriers for them, we dress them up for balls in the outfit of a superhero, warrior, Lord Vader, we are happy when they climb trees, go crazy on skateboards, and at some point we see girls withdrawing, falling into monstrous insecurities, having huge problems with self-acceptance, suffering from mental crises, eating disorders? 89% Polish girls are dissatisfied with their appearance. They compare and evaluate themselves strictly, they also do not receive support from their peers, and they complain about the lack of solidarity. Marta Majchrzak, social psychologist, researcher and founder of, while working on the “Future for girls” report, heard that girls are jealous of boys because they keep their heads together. 10-year-olds notice that they are brought up to compete, to race, to try to be better than each other. At the age of 10, girls’ self-esteem begins to drop sharply.

“Until the age of 10, we treat a girl as a child who has greater freedom to express herself, dress, move, eat, manage her voice, establish relationships with others, and express her opinion. After that, regular behavioural training begins. It involves social approval of behaviours that are considered feminine and punishing behaviours that are culturally ascribed to men. The rewards are sometimes subtle: it can be a smile, praise or a compliment, ‘What a pretty girl.’ Punishments are often criticism, silencing, shaming, ignoring or ridiculing. It is worth noting that the tenth year of life is a breakthrough,” said Iwona Chmura-Rutkowska, educator, sociologist in the series ‘Tenderness and Freedom’. And she added, “at the age of 10, the silence training starts for girls.

Then everything goes on like an avalanche: either a 10-year-old receives support from the environment (it is not only the family home, it is also a school, neighbours, friends, peers), or not.”

“Whenever a girl’s potential goes unrealised, we all lose,” wrote Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Undersecretary General, in a special UNFPA report explaining why our future depends on 10-year-old girls. Because in 15 years these 25-year-olds will build our societies.

It is up to us whether their potential will be squandered and suppressed or, on the contrary, we will involve them on an equal footing in social and economic life, etc. The UN has a great plan for the coming years: to support girls all over the world, to talk about inequalities and to fight them. To create a world – as lofty as it sounds – in which there is no place for gender discrimination.

What can we do for girls? Strengthen them in their decisions, say they are wise, allow what we allow the boys to do. “To give girls the right to fulfil themselves in various ways,” says Marta Majchrzak. And she adds, “it is not enough if we do not work with boys at the same time, talk to them about girls, about the difficulties they encounter, about listening to girls and not only looking at them. You also have to talk to boys about difficult topics: about mental and physical violence.”

On 11.10 we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Take the whole world as a gift!

Author: Monika Tutak-Goll

Illustrated by: Marta Frej

The text was published on wysokie on 9 October 2021