Get girls heard in 2016 elections and EU referendum

It's been 88 years since women got the vote, so why are the majority of us passing up on this opportunity to make our voices heard?

by Susie McGuinness, 17, Girlguiding Advocate
28 April 2016

In the last General Election, Ipsos Mori found that only 44% of women aged 18-24 voted

In May, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will vote for their national parliaments, and June will see the UK vote in a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union. With these parliaments holding more powers than ever before and the referendum's potential to shape the future of our country, it's vitally important girls and young women are engaged in politics.

However, it's hard to be invested in a political system when you feel like it doesn't represent you.

Only 29% of MPs at Westminster are women and while the statistics are higher for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly (35% and 41% respectively), nowhere in the UK is there a truly proportionate representation of women in a parliament.

This can be hugely damaging to the numbers of women voting, as many feel there's no point if there are few candidates who represent them. But things are starting to improve - 1,033 women stood for parliamentary election in 2015, the highest number on record.

Things are changing

For me, as a Scottish member of Girlguiding's Advocate panel, it's a particularly exciting time for women in Scottish politics - our three major parties are being led by women and Scotland has sent 19 female MPs to Westminster.

With the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in the Scottish Independence Referendum and now the upcoming Scottish Parliament election, there has been a huge surge in political engagement from young people - something I hope will soon spread throughout the rest of the UK!

You can help make sure girls' voices are heard

There are two things you can do to make sure that girls and young women's voices are heard in the upcoming election and in the future.

1. Vote

May and June can be two very busy and stressful months. It's tricky enough balancing the dates of exams, coursework deadlines and the Eurovision Song Contest finals, without various elections and a referendum on top. But it's still really important your opinion and all girls' opinions are taken into account, so here's a quick run down of the key dates.

Scotland and Wales – 5 May

You'll get two ballot papers - one to vote for your constituency candidate, and one to vote for a party from which you'd like your regional representative to come from.

Northern Ireland – 5 May

You'll have one ballot paper and will be asked to mark your candidates numerically in order of preference. You can state a preference for as many or as few candidates as you like.

Local Council and Mayoral Elections – 5 May

For the London Mayoral elections you mark your preferences 1 and 2 or you can just put a 1 next to your preferred candidate.

Other local council and mayoral elections will be taking place across England - you can find details about those on the About My Vote website.

The EU Referendum – 23 June

This is the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. If you're not already registered to vote, there's still time! You have until the 7 June to register.

You can also find tonnes of detailed info about how to vote on the About My Vote website.

And if you've not had 100 fliers through your door yet, have a look at the different party websites to help you decide what to do with your vote!

2. Speak out about what you think

As the largest organisation in the UK representing young women and girls, what matters to girls matters to Girlguiding. That's why we do the Girls' Attitudes Survey each year and in 2014 we consulted thousands of girls to find out what they wanted included in the Girls Matter campaign. That campaign set out eight calls for change that we want to see government take action on to improve all girls' and young people's lives.

If you're a Leader, why not try out the Girls Matter: Hear our voice programme resource to learn more about democracy, talk to girls in your unit and make your voices heard.

Happy Voting!