A young woman working to improve the self-esteem and prospects of girls has applauded former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for committing to the cause of girls’ education and empowerment.
It follows Ms Gillard telling an international gathering in New York that institutions should be seeking to meet a quota of 50% for women in their senior ranks.
Ruth Lewis-Jones said meeting such targets depended to a large extent on encouraging girls’ self-esteem at a young age.
Ms Lewis Jones, who runs programs to help build confidence of young people Esteem Designz, referred to a study in Britain last year that found that the knock-on effect of girls’ low esteem could reduce by more than 10% the chances of another female Prime Minister being elected.
The British study by the think tank Future Foundation, showed that a generation of the best and brightest young women was being held back from fulfilling its potential to produce future leaders, entrepreneurs and trendsetters because of insecurity and relentless societal pressure for girls to strive for physical perfection.
Other research has found girls’ self-esteem declines during middle adolescence because of changes in body image, socio-cultural factors and the quality of relationships with parents and peers.
Ms Lewis-Jones has seen how teenagers can become discontent and detached from life, “The main contributors to poor self-esteem include no self-identity, appearance, peer pressure and bullying, unrealistic expectations, criticism and the feeling of being unloved and unvalued.”
“Teenagers struggle to just be themselves, allow themselves to be pressured into things in order to be accepted or acknowledged, thereby making their self-esteem decrease further.”
She said, “To effectively respond to the problems teens face, the underlying issue, low self-esteem, must be addressed.”
Esteem Designz grew out of Ms Lewis-Jones’ studies for a Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, where she saw the power of design to create change, provide direction, meaning and hope in girls’ lives.
The programme has been picked up by primary schools and high schools, a youth support agency, a women’s refuge, girls’ camps and mentoring programs.