Plan International Canada Research Showcases Gap in Gender Equality When Girls Transition to Womanhood, calls on Canadians to #DefyNormal

The girls’ rights organization’s recent survey reveals young women in Canada are less likely to believe they can lead or that their ideas are taken seriously and are more likely to feel pressure to change their physical appearance and behaviour.


TORONTO, March 5, 2019 - To mark this upcoming International Women's Day on March 8, Plan International Canada today released new data revealing that perceptions of gender inequality reach a tipping point in the critical time of a girl’s life when she enters womanhood. Between the ages of 18-24, young women in Canada report feeling less equal because of their gender and that their confidence reaches a low – and those sentiments only improve marginally over a woman’s adult life.

Only six out of 10 Canadian girls aged 14-17 (66 per cent) feel as equal to their male counterparts according to a survey conducted in September 2018, and new data reveals that feeling of inequality becomes more pronounced when a girl turns 18. In a survey conducted in February 2019, less than half of Canadian young women aged 18-24 (44 per cent) say they feel as equal – and nearly the same amount (42 per cent) said they feel less than equal. Only 57 per cent of women over the age of 25+ report feeling as equal, while 31 per cent said they feel less equal. Some respondents reported feeling unsure.

“This study shatters the illusion that the next generation of women feel equal to their male peers and capable to take on the world. Despite our encouragement, we see that as soon as a girl turns 18 in Canada, her self-confidence drops drastically,” said Caroline Riseboro, President & CEO of Plan International Canada. “Adolescence is a critical period when young people begin to take their place in the world, but normal for too many girls means experiencing roadblocks that challenge their power, freedom and equality as they become women.”

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Key findings show that young women in Canada:

  • Lack confidence in their leadership abilities: In September 2018, a majority of girls aged 14-17 (60 per cent) told us they believe they have the same opportunity as men to lead – but new data showcases shows only 38 per cent of young women aged 18-24 say they share this belief. This level of confidence increases only incrementally as women age: Only 42 per cent of women aged 25+ believe they have the same opportunity to lead as their male counterparts, while 41 per cent say they have less opportunity to lead.
  • Do not believe their ideas are taken as seriously as others: Sixty-four per cent of girls aged 14-17 believe their ideas are taken as seriously as others because of their gender, but only 43 per cent of young women aged 18-24 and 49 per cent of women aged 25+ share that belief.
  • Have felt pressure to change their physical appearance: Seventy-five per cent of Canadian young women aged 18-24 say they’ve regularly or occasionally felt pressure to change their physical appearance because of their gender, which is nearly twice as often as women aged 25+ (43 per cent).
  • Have felt pressure to change their behaviour: Seventy-two per cent of Canadian women aged 18-24 say they’ve regularly or occasionally felt pressure to change their behaviour because of their gender, which is nearly 1.5 times as often as women aged 25+ (53 per cent).
  • Do not feel as empowered about their sexuality: New data reveals 76 per cent of Canadian young women aged 18-24 feel at least somewhat empowered to make decisions about their own sexuality, compared with 83 per cent of Canadian girls aged 14-17 in the September 2018 survey.
  • Have never been mentored: Sixty-one per cent of young women aged 18-24 in Canada have never received mentorship, and that number jumps to 67 per cent of women aged 25+. Of all respondents over age 18, 70 per cent have never been a mentor to other women and girls.
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“These statistics are shocking, but also expected,” said Amy Bing, a 20-year old Plan International Canada Youth Ambassador. “Between the ages of 18 to 24, we’re trying to figure out what we want to do, and whether we’ve chosen the right field of study or work. This is a problem for everyone, but gender inequality adds an extra layer of doubt for young women – myself included – who will often question whether they belong in their chosen field, especially if it’s male-dominated.”

Riseboro advocates for a youth-led approach to closing the gender equality gap. “To defy normal this International Women’s Day, let’s take the opportunity to listen and have candid conversations with youth so that we can truly understand the issues they face today,” said Riseboro. “Mentorship is a proven way to support young women, and if we want to really move the dial to advance gender equality, let’s find new avenues to empower young people and amplify their voices.”

Plan International Canada co-leads the Youth for Gender Equality (YGE) initiative with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. This ground-breaking three-year initiative unites young people between the ages of 14-24 to create an equitable society for people of all genders, abilities and races. Based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this initiative will bring youth to Ottawa from March 8 to 11, 2019 to craft the first-ever youth-led SDG 5 Implementation Plan on gender equality in the world. The youth-led recommendations for Canada will be unveiled at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in June 2019.

For International Women’s Day, Plan International Canada is calling on Canadians to #DefyNormal. This means listening to girls, amplifying their voices, and helping to support their transition into empowered, confident women, ready to unleash their full potential.

To support tomorrow’s women, Canadians are encouraged to visit plancanada.ca/IWD to download a how-to guide for having honest conversations with youth about how gender inequality affects them or purchase the Gift of Hope of Empower girls in Canada,which directly supports the youth advocates who are at the forefront of driving change.

Join the conversation with @plancanada online on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to #DefyNormal.

Multimedia assets, including infographics for social media, are available for download.

About the Plan International Canada Survey

Plan International Canada commissioned Nanos Research to conduct an online survey of 1,000 Canadian women, 18 years of age or older, between February 5 and 6, 2019. Participants were administered a survey online. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada. No margin of error applies to this research.

Plan International Canada also commissioned Nanos Research to conduct an online survey of 1,002 Canadian girls, between 14 and 24 years of age, between August 30 and September 14, 2018. Participants were randomly administered a survey online. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada. No margin of error applies to this research.

About Plan International Canada

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 over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries. We are calling on all Canadians to Defy Normal: to believe in the power and potential of every child and to take a stand anywhere children are oppressed, exploited or left behind and anywhere girls aren't equally valued. Together, we can create a world where all unleash their full potential.

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

Media contacts:

Angie Torres-Ramos, Plan International Canada | +1 437-828-8893 |atorres@plancanada.ca

Jade Hunter, Hill+Knowlton Strategies | +1 416-413-4635 | jade.hunter@hkstrategies.ca