Half of Belgian girls do not feel heard by politicians

Half of Belgian girls do not feel heard by politicians
In October 2021, Louise (left) opened the Council of ministers in Belgium, together with Sophie Wilemès and Alexander De Croo. Credit: Plan International / Giencarlo Rocconi.

Female political participation is essential to protect their rights, yet half of Belgian girls feel their voices are not heard or understood by politicians, an international report on the political participation of girls reveals.

In the run-up to International Girls’ Day on 11 October, Plan International published an international report on girls’ political participation. Major issues such as the pandemic, climate breakdown and the recent demonstrations in Iran have highlighted the fragility and imperilled the rights of girls and women worldwide.

"Political participation of girls is essential to protect their rights that are increasingly threatened today," said Isabelle Verhaegen, National Director of Plan International Belgium. The organisation surveyed nearly 29,000 girls and young women aged between 15 and 24 across 29 countries – of which one thousand were Belgian.

Gender roles persist

The survey shows that girls worldwide share clear political priorities. In particular, these are protection against violence, discrimination, climate change and health (including mental health).

Whilst girls in Belgium are more involved with social and political issues than elsewhere, more than nine in ten indicate that they face challenges in terms of political engagement. A lack of political knowledge is a significant barrier, but so too is the entrenched idea that politics  is a predominantly male realm.

Only 14% of Belgian girls feel confident enough to run for elections, just half the global figure of 28%. This insecurity may stem from a lack of role models. Worldwide, there are only 13 female heads of government and 26% of members of parliament are women. Young women are even less represented; globally only 1% of MPs are women under 30.

Looking back, looking forwards

In an effort to turn this around, Plan International Belgium asked the country's female politicians to write a letter to their younger selves in which they describe the obstacles they have faced as female politicians and how they overcame them. Some words of wisdom to their younger selves include:

"Politics is a hard world but step by step you will bring about change. Step by step you will get there. You are doing that now and you always will." – Meryame Kitir, Minister of Development Cooperation and Metropolitan Policy.

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"Ambition is not a dirty word for women. Nadia, dream big. Work hard, persevere and trust your gut feeling. The world cannot do without strong women." – Nadia Naji, Co-President of Green.

"We are not just standing up for ourselves; we are standing up for others. Girls like you are one right now. We are going to put the macho in his place who thinks women are second-rate. We owe that to all girls." – Zuhal Demir, Flemish Minister of Environment, Energy, Tourism and Justice.

The letters by the female Belgian politicians can be read online in each politician's native language.

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