Girls’ rights gains in the last 10 years have been ‘slow, fragile and unequal’ – says new Plan International report

Toronto, ON – October 11, 2022 – Girls around the world continue to face considerable human rights violations with little change from 10 years ago, according to new analysis by Plan International.

In a report published on the 10th annual International Day of the Girl, a day celebrating the importance of girls’ power and potential, Plan International found that a combination of factors – including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, humanitarian conflict and the rise of right-wing politics – has profoundly set back progress on girls’ rights.

While the International Day of the Girl has generated considerable dialogue and awareness on the unique barriers that girls face due to intersecting factors, including their age and gender, there is much more to be done.

Though improvements have been recorded on key development indicators, such as education and child mortality, a growing youth population means that more girls are being denied rights today – rights that are guaranteed under international law – than in 2012.

Of the 144 countries in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Gender Index, which account for 98% of the world’s girls and women, not one country has achieved gender equality.

As of 2020, more than three billion girls and women still live in countries with ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ scores for gender equality.

“Far too often, girls around the world are denied the opportunity to realize their rights and full potential due to harmful gender norms and practices, including violence,” says Saadya Hamdani, Director of Gender Equality and Inclusion at Plan International Canada. “While gains have been made on some of girls’ fundamental rights, we know they are tenuous and can easily slide back.”

According to Plan International’s analysis within the Realizing every girl's right to flourish report, key gains in gender equality over the last 10 years include:

  • Since 1990, the global under-five mortality rate has dropped by 60%, from 93 deaths per 1,000 live births to 39 deaths per 1,000 live births for boys and 34 for girls in 2020.
  • Gender parity has been largely achieved in primary school enrolment and learning outcomes, while secondary school enrolment for girls increased from 72% in 2012 to 76% in 2020.
  • More legal protections from certain forms of abuse and harmful cultural practices, such as the banning of child marriage in the Dominican Republic in November 2020 and female genital mutilation/cutting in South Sudan in April 2020.
  • A 15% decrease in the proportion of girls married as children, meaning the rate has dropped from nearly one in four to one in five.
  • A decrease in the global adolescent birth rate amongst girls aged 15–19 from 47 to 41.2 births per 1,000 between 2012 to 2020.

However, change has been slow and unequal, with girls who are growing up in poverty or in conflict settings, living with a disability or identifying as 2SLGBTQIA+ being less likely to benefit from these gains.

Key factors that suggest a failure to sustain girls’ development over the course of their lives include:

  • There are still 5.5 million more girls of primary school age out of school than boys.
  • Girls and young women aged 15–24 make up the majority of the 267 million young people worldwide who are not in education, training or employment. As of 2019, 42% of young women, compared to 12% of young men, are not in education, training or employment.
  • No region is on track to meet the United Nations’ SDG target of eliminating child, early and forced marriage by 2030.
  • In 2019, 43% of sexually active girls (aged 15–19) who wanted to avoid pregnancy were not using modern contraception, leading to 10 million unintended pregnancies and 5.7 million abortions.
  • While several countries have improved legal protection of access to safe abortion, others, notably Nicaragua, Poland and the United States, have repealed laws that previously protected the right to safe abortion.
  • There has been little legal progress in protecting the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ people. In 2020, there were still 70 countries that criminalize consensual same-sex activity.

“We are still very far from a gender just world,” Hamdani adds. “Now more than ever before, we need to rally with girls in support of their inherent power as leaders and changemakers. We must tackle discrimination, amplify girls’ voices and invest in their empowerment, including education, health and safety.”

As one of the driving forces in the creation of the International Day of the Girl, Plan International Canada is offering several ways for everyone to celebrate, get involved and take action for girls’ equality:

  • Celebrate: Our online social campaign aims to inspire girls and young women to see themselves as powerful and capable of leadership. We’re asking the public to reflect on the question: If I could write a message to my younger or older self, what would I say? Submit your words of encouragement on our website or post it on your preferred social platform along with the tags @PlanCanada #EqualPowerNow #DayOftheGirl (important note: this campaign is over, and we are no longer accepting any more submissions. Thank you to all those who have participated!)
  • Advocate: Champion girls' rights by engaging in our conversations online. Use our International Day of the Girl GIFs on Instagram and TikTok, our special virtual background and LinkedIn profile banner. Download our graphics.
  • Donate: Buy a Gift of Hope or start a personal fundraiser to contribute to a world where every girl has the chance to shape her own life and the future.

Plan International Canada also welcomes the return of our longstanding youth leadership program, Girls Belong Here. This October, more than 30 girls and young women will partner with participating civil society organizations, corporations and politicians for meaningful professional development and mentorship opportunities, working together toward a future of leadership that is more diverse and inclusive. Since 2016, the program has engaged more than 150 girls across Canada, and this year, it has expanded to two moments in time. In addition to fall 2022, activities will take place in the spring of 2023 as part of Plan International Canada’s International Women’s Day celebrations.

To learn more, please visit

Join Plan International Canada’s conversations online:

#EqualPowerNow #DayOfTheGirl
Twitter: @PlanCanada | Instagram: @PlanCanada | Facebook: @PlanCanada


Plan International Canada led an extensive two-year campaign in 2009 that engaged thousands of Canadians in a call for an International Day of the Girl, a global initiative to recognize girls' rights as human rights. In December 2011, with unanimous all-party support, the Canadian government led the United Nations to officially declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl.


Plan International Canada is a member of a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. We have been building powerful partnerships for children for 85 years and are now active in more than 75 countries.

Visit for more information and follow @PlanCanada on social media to join the conversation.

For media inquiries please contact:

Ethan Teclu
Plan International Canada - Paradigm Public Relations | 416 413 5196

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