I am more than a statistic on International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day and the week leading up to it is one of my favourite and personally most important times of the year. So, why is this? 

An awareness from a young age that we didn’t start life on a level playing field

Since I was very little, I have had an awareness that individuals appeared to be impacted by the circumstances that they were born into, and that we didn’t seem to all start on a level playing field. Some people had a mountain to climb, others were trundling around in circles at the mid-way point, and then there were those that were born right at the top.  

As the years passed, I noticed that these beginnings seemed to continue to play out throughout the individuals’ lives, with a lot of people staying at the bottom without the right climbing equipment to progress and with the odd anomaly fighting through the treacherous weather conditions to push through to the top.   

The realisation that where we begin heavily influences our life experiences and events

Later when I studied sociology, I realised that these were the statistics or ‘social determinants‘ that were often referenced in the news or academic texts; how from where we begin heavily influences our life experiences and events. These determinants were very complex, and made of many different parts, for example you may be at the top for one factor but at the bottom for another. 

….and I seemed to be one of those with a mountain to climb due to my gender, my family unit, being raised in a single parent low-income family and my learning and mental health difficulties. 

So, what are some of the statistics that women and girls are trying to overcome today?

According to our 2017 report on mental health of women and girls

  • Today, women are three times more likely than men to experience common mental health problems. In 1993, they were twice as likely.  
  • Rates of self-harm among young women have tripled since 1993.  
  • Women are more than three times as likely to experience eating disorders than men. 
  • Young women are three times more likely than young men to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.  
  • Young women are three times more likely to experience eating disorders than young men. 
  • Young women are more likely to experience anxiety related conditions than any other group.  

What are some of the reasons for these statistics? 

According to our 2017 report on mental health of women and girls: 

Domestic violence, sexual violence and abuse

Mental ill-health has a strong association with domestic violence. Recent research with mental health service users in London found that 70% of women had experienced domestic violence during their lifetimes, while 27% of women had experienced domestic violence in the past year. Sixty-one percent of women reported having experienced sexual violence during adulthood, and 10% reported having experienced sexual violence in the past year. 

The role of online culture, social media, and pornography

The Royal Society for Public Health and Youth Health Movement recently published a recent report ‘#StatusOfMind’, on Social Media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. This showed that 90% of teenage girls say they are unhappy with their bodies, and drew a link between these body issues and exposure to photographs online. 

Economic and historical dimensions 

A number of reports have pointed to the disproportionate effect that government austerity measures which have been introduced since 2010 have had on vulnerable groups, including women. 

A steely determination to not be defined by my circumstances

As a young teen I felt a steely determination to not only understand more about why these differences existed, but to show that the individual can be empowered, and finally to be a leading example of one of those individuals. 

I wanted to show that my gender, economic status and mental ill health would not define or determine the outcome of my life.  

I have experienced a lot of these things above, however these things by no means define me. 

It is important to recognise the agency young women and girls have

Our report on Women and Girls’ mental health highlighted exactly this – that these difficulties do exist, but that, “It is important to recognise the agency that young women and girls have to protect their mental health, to avoid implying that they are ‘helpless victims’ who must simply rely on the actions of others.” 

Education and prevention can make a difference

If my teachers and I had been taught about mental health when I was in school, I would have known how to manage it from earlier on, and the teachers would have known how to recognise the signs that I was experiencing anxiety and depression, and ideally would have been able to offer me support. 

If there had been sex and relationships education around consent and healthy and toxic relationships, I would have understood what had happened to me earlier and may not have become a repeat victim of rape and domestic violence.  

Also, If I had been taught through media channels and education that I could be in control and empowered as a woman, I would have reached out for support to manage my finances earlier and created a career plan from an earlier age. 

Today, we can make an empowered stand as women and girls

Therefore, this day means so much to me, because we get a chance to raise awareness around these statistics, make a stand and say they shouldn’t be this way, and that it is not the individuals fault. 

To create a momentum for societal and structural change and to shine a light on those that have defied the odds and show others that with education and campaigning they can too! 

Read our full report 

Sign our petition

As Bethan says, we want to make a world with good mental health for every woman and girl. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We need your help to move us forward. Sign our petition to put mental health at the heart of what young women and girls learn in school!

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