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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Schoolgirls 'suffer poor body image'
Girls' body image is being eroded, the YWCA says
Poor self-esteem and a low body image among teenage girls must be tackled in schools, a pressure group urges, as research suggests only 14% are happy with the way they look.

A survey of 500 pupils by the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) revealed one in three thought about their body shape all the time.

We feel it is important that those issues are quite clearly on the political agenda

YWCA spokeswoman
Young women are vulnerable to the pressure to conform to an ideal, the YWCA says in a manifesto drawn up to highlight women's issues in anticipation of a general election.

"Worrying about their weight and dieting is commonplace among young women, resulting in low self-esteem," the association's manifesto says.

Ethnic minority and disabled young women rarely receive a positive portrayal in the media, the YWCA adds.

The group is calling on the media and fashion industry to put greater emphasis on images of women which reflect the diversity of shapes, sizes and ethnicity of the modern-day British woman.

'Too little, too late'

The YWCA says girls and young women are also not being given the advice they need when it comes to sex and contraception.

The sex education on offer in schools is "too little, too late", according to the YWCA.

The facts given to girls about sex are limited to biological details "with little opportunity to explore the emotional dimension", the association claims.

Information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases is kept for secondary school classes - too late for many girls.

Stereotyping in schools

The manifesto also says teachers must work harder to eliminate gender stereotyping in schools, where girls opt for "softer" subjects, such as arts, languages and social sciences.

Qualifications in such areas are less likely to lead to an earning power on a par with computer studies or design and technology, the YWCA suggests.

Teachers should be trained to challenge stereotyping in the classroom and on the sports ground, rather than reinforce them.

Career advice

The YWCA claims career guidance is often tainted by a gender-bias, with girls guided to take up "female" occupations such as social work and boys steered towards more high-powered, high income careers, such as industry and commerce.

There are more women in the workforce than ever before, but, even as young teenagers, they earn less than their male counterparts

YWCA manifesto
The association wants to see advisors challenge, rather than endorse, preconceptions about what constitutes girls' and boys' employment.

"Career guidance should use examples of women who have succeeded in traditionally male dominated fields, such as science and industry, to motivate, inspire and influence young women's career choices," the organisation's manifesto says.

Tackling inequalities in pay in the workplace must be a government priority, the association says.

"The gender divide that prevails in school is reflected even more starkly in jobs, wages and career opportunities for women.

"There are more women in the workforce than ever before, but, even as young teenagers, they earn less than their male counterparts," the YWCA says.

Political life

It also calls for more women in politics, to give younger women more faith in the democratic process.

"Parliament and local councils need to be more family-friendly and sensitive to women's caring responsibilities, in order to attract and retain women representatives," the manifesto reads.

A spokeswoman for the YWCA said the aim of the manifesto was to get a debate going on the issues affecting young women.

"We feel it is important that those issues are quite clearly on the political agenda," she said.

Copies are being sent to MPs and the headquarters of the main political parties.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | Education
Pupils 'learn about sex from soaps'
24 Oct 00 | Health
Parents 'ignoring sex education'
13 Nov 00 | Education
Plea to 'get tough with girls'
10 Apr 01 | Scotland
Kirk warns over sex education report
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