Girl activists fear for safety, making gains at huge personal cost – says new Plan International report

Toronto, ON, October 5, 2023 – In a world where girls are courageously leading movements for change, a startling revelation emerges: One in five girl and young woman activists (17%) have feared for their safety while carrying out their work, according to new research by global development and humanitarian organization Plan International.

The study – Turning the World Around: Girl and young women activists leading the fight for equality – involved more than a thousand girl activists from 26 countries, including Canada, ages 15 to 24, and details the multitude of challenges girls face as they campaign for change.

Launched ahead of International Day of the Girl on October 11, the global research highlights the experiences of girl and young woman activists – one of the biggest surveys of its kind – and provides recommendations to increase girls’ participation in activism and social issues.

One in 10 (9%) have faced threats of physical violence as a result of their work, while 15% have experienced online harassment and abuse. The single biggest barrier to girls’ activism is a shortage of funding, named by more than half of girls surveyed (54%) as the main factor holding their activism efforts back.

“The findings show us that there is still much work to be done. Girls and young women have the right to be heard and to shape the decisions that affect their lives. Although they face multiple barriers and injustices, the statistics affirm that they are ready and willing to drive change,” says Saadya Hamdani, Director of Gender Equality and Inclusion at Plan International Canada. “Youth activists require the platform, tools and resources to turn their potential into real-time action. When we rally behind youth activists and amplify their voices, they can ignite global movements, influence public opinion and push for policy reforms that create a more equal and just world for all.” 

Further research in Canada was conducted focusing on young women ages 18 to 24, which found that 63% of young women in Canada are actively engaged in various forms of activism. However, over half of young women (53%) fear for their personal safety (such as online trolling, bullying and physical violence) when championing their causes.

Furthermore, one third of young women (34%) have decreased their participation in activism around social justice issues due to rising costs of living.

Despite these challenges, the global report – which is the latest release in Plan International’s annual State of the World’s Girls Report series – found that nearly all girl activists (95%) say that campaigning has had a positive effect on their lives, making them feel proud, powerful and capable.

Children are always innocent victims of war. All children have the right to a life free from violence and fear and it is the collective responsibility of the global community to protect that right.

Other key stats from the global research:

  • Girls’ activism is creating change: More than half of respondents (61%) say the results of their activism have met or exceeded their expectations. 
  • Girls are leading the charge: Gender equality is the most important issue for girl activists, with 60% naming gender equality or gender-based violence as a top priority. 
  • Sacrifices for equality: Activism takes an enormous toll on girls’ mental health and can come at a huge personal cost. One in four (25%) report feeling emotionally unwell or anxious while engaging in activism work, and for LGBTQ2SIA+ activists, this figure rises to one in three (31%). 
  • Resilience amidst adversity: One in four girls (27%) cited negative views from members of their family or community as another barrier to their campaigning work.

"Activism isn’t a choice; it’s our responsibility,” says Bhanvi Sachdeva, a Plan International Canada Youth Council member who participated as a co-researcher in the global study. “The issues our generation is facing today require unrelenting determined optimism, but young people are too often ignored, harassed or discriminated against. From decision makers to everyday people, we all play a part to ensure girls’ safety in speaking out. Change needs to happen now.”

As International Day of the Girl approaches, Plan International Canada is celebrating girl change makers in their mission to beat the clock for gender equality. Experts warn that gender parity remains elusive, with projections for closing the gap extending to 131 years – a timeline that’s completely unacceptable.

We must come alongside girls and young women to build a better world and help amplify their voices, until we are all equal.

Join Plan International Canada in supporting girl activists and shortening the time to achieve equality:

About the 2023 State of the World’s Girls Report

Since 2007, the State of the World’s Girls Report has been produced annually by Plan International, with the aim of highlighting key issues affecting girls’ lives through original research.

This year’s report, Turning the World Around: Girl and young women activists leading the fight for equality, is the result of extensive research conducted between March 8 and May 11, 2023. This survey engaged 840 female activists ages 15 to 24 from 26 countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Thailand, Togo, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

The research also involved more than 200 additional girl and young woman activists who actively participated in peer-to-peer interviews, and 57 girls took part in focus groups. This comprehensive approach amplified the voices and experiences of more than a thousand girls and young women.

About Plan International Canada

Plan International Canada is a member of a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. Plan International has been building powerful partnerships for children for over 85 years and is now active in more than 80 countries.

We stand with children, especially girls, wherever they are oppressed, exploited, left behind or not equally valued. We’re determined optimists and will continue to persevere until we are all equal.

Visit for more information.


Plan International. Turning the World Around: Girl and young women activists leading the fight for equality, October 2023.
Plan International Canada. Voices for Change: A Study of Activism Among Young Women in Canada, October 2023.

Media contact

Plan International Canada
PR & Communications

Join our mailing list to receive updates

By signing up you agree to receive our emails.