EMMA Siles couldn’t believe it when she heard a new study had found Australia was not the best place to be born a girl.
But when the 19-year-old university student considered the reasons why Australia had worse gender equality than five other Commonwealth countries, it made a lot more sense.
A report to be released today has revealed New Zealand is the best place in the Commonwealth to be born a girl, ahead of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and the Seychelles.
Then comes Australia, Canada, South Africa and the UK.
The Royal Commonwealth Society and Plan International report found Australian girls still faced discrimination and gender inequality, revealing some surprising statistics.
It said Australian girls were more likely to leave secondary school earlier than boys, unlike girls in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
It also took into account the “fertility rate” of girls between the ages of 15 and 19, which was better than New Zealand and the UK but worse than Canada, Cyprus, Malaysia, Singapore, Maldives, and Malta.
In other words, young Australian girls are more likely to fall pregnant.
Ms Siles said she wasn’t surprised Australia had a higher number of teenage pregnancies than six other Commonwealth countries.
“I think it sounds about right…I know that there’s a lot of girls I went to primary school with that have apparently got kids and I know a lot of people around 19 and 20 who have got three or four-year-old kids,” she said.
Ms Siles said she was surprised when she heard about the likelihood of girls leaving school before boys, but had seen quite a few girls leave school early.
“There are a lot of girls that will drop out and go to TAFE for hairdressing and stuff like that, but it’s still surprising,” she said. “I think school isn’t for everybody but as long as they work and earn it’s okay…some people stay at school and then they don’t do anything after that anyway.”
Ms Siles said she knew there was a gender pay gap, but she was still shocked by the report’s finding that Australian women earn only 73% of the average male salary.
“That is pretty surprising to me, I didn’t realise the gap was that big.”
Not so surprising was the report’s finding that Australia still has poor female political participation, with only 28% female politicians in national parliament.
It wasn’t all bad news, with Australia ranking highly in female sports participation, alongside with Canada and Nigeria.
It also found more Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships are awarded to young Australian women than men, reflecting female excellence in tertiary education.
Plan Australia chief executive Ian Wishart said the report showed political will was more important than economic wealth in ensuring equality.
“Our research shows that in those Commonwealth countries that have shown bold political will, there has been great progress towards realising girls’ rights, lifting them out of poverty,” he said.
“But my message to the Commonwealth is that much more needs to be done. Globally 75 million girls remain out of school and robbed of a future.”
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