Media Backgrounder - The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights

State of the World’s Girls: Report Series

  • The Because I am a Girl reports, The State of the World’s Girls, is a nine-part series examining the development of girls around the world.
  • Each report is based on a different theme, including girls in conflict zones, adolescent girls in disasters and the role of men and boys. The series releases its 9th research analysis this year with its report The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights, just as the UN launches its Sustainable Development Goals which have gender equality at their centre.

The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights: Report Background

  • The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights report features a research study titled Girls Speak Out based on interviews with adolescent girls across four developing countries, and it also includes commentary and insights from 14 leading activists, academics, politicians and writers.
  • For the research study, interviews were conducted by Ipsos MORI with 4,219 girls aged 15 to 19 in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
  • In Canada, the global report was supplemented by perspectives from a small focus group of Canadian girls who were interviewed on behalf of Plan Canada about their own rights.
  • The aim of the study was to consult with adolescent girls to explore their perspectives on gender-based violence at school and in the community, about early marriage and early pregnancy, what could be done to combat the challenges they face, and to identify who they believe should be responsible for implementing changes.

Girls’ Rights: A Work in Progress

  • Girls’ rights are still a work in progress:
    • Gender discrimination begins at birth for millions of girls everywhere in the world. Being born a girl can mean not having the opportunity to succeed with a future that is already determined.
    • 63 million girls do not attend primary and secondary school in the poorest countries of the world.
    • In developing countries, girls are twice as likely to suffer malnutrition.
    • Each year, 15 million girls under 18 will be married; that's 41,000 each day, nearly 1 girl every 2 seconds.
    • Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death of girls aged 15-19 in the developing world.
    • Globally, 30% of girls aged 15 to 19 experience violence by a partner.
    • Among the girls surveyed in the global Girls Speak Out study, only 37% believe that they are often or always given the same opportunities as boys.
    • Large numbers of girls across all four developing countries reported that they have little control over the decisions that determine their fate, that they need more information to avoid early pregnancy and marriage, and that they lack the confidence to stand up for themselves when they would like to.
    • 30% of girls surveyed in the four developing countries said that their concerns seldom or never matter in the community.
  • In Canada, girls see inequality in their own lives in terms of a lack of acceptance for girls in traditionally male-dominated areas such as math, sciences, and sports, and insufficient numbers of women in leadership positions in the workplace and in politics.
  • Amongst the girls surveyed in the developing countries, the primary issue preventing gender equality is violence.
    • Violence, or the fear of violence, is a pervasive theme in the global report, and girls consistently see early or forced marriage as a factor in increasing the risk of violence.
    • 68% say that those who marry young are more likely to experience violence in the home.
    • 50% of girls said they do not feel safe using the toilet or latrines in school, where there can be a lack of privacy or security that leaves girls vulnerable to violence or attacks.
    • 47% of girls said they do not feel safe on their way to school.
  • Canadian girls also pointed to discriminatory treatment of girls and women in media and advertising, which they see as often sexist and perpetuating harmful practices such as gender-based violence, and notions such as unrealistic body image.
    • “The media perpetrates a certain image and make us feel awful.” – 19, Ottawa

There is progress to acknowledge and celebrate

  • As complex issues like child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and gender-based violence are gaining recognition as barriers to both wellbeing and poverty reduction, governments, civil society and the private sector are increasingly allocating resources and targeting policies to curtail these abuses.
    • More girls are enrolling in primary education than ever before.
    • Four million child deaths have been prevented over the past four decades thanks to the global increase in women’s education.
    • There are fewer mothers dying in child birth now than any other time in history; the rate of maternal mortality has decreased by almost 50% since 1990.
  • Of the girls surveyed in the global report:
    • 73% agree that adolescent girls are becoming more valued in their communities than they used to be.
    • 88% agree that girls have more opportunities in life than their mothers did.
  • Canadian girls said they feel fortunate to have many of the rights their mothers didn’t have or their peers in other countries still don’t have, and they feel optimistic and empowered about achieving greater gender equality in Canada in the future.
    • “Girls are feeling more empowered, they are speaking up for themselves, they make their own opportunities.” – 16, Mississauga
    • “I really do think that today our place as females is much better.” – 15, Surrey
  • Canadian girls also identified a breadth of actors who should be responsible for making changes to eliminate inequalities, including media, employers, educators, and legislators. They believe that spreading the message of equal ability and equal opportunity through awareness and education, particularly starting at an early age, can make a big difference.
    • “Education is definitely the biggest thing to combat the challenges I face as a girl. School should be the best place to have discussion about girls facing issues of sexism.” – 18, Calgary
  • This is vastly different from girls surveyed in developing countries, who see changing their lives for the better as the responsibility largely of themselves and their families, their mothers particularly, rather than of the government or community and religious leaders.
    • Girls in the global survey want their parents to talk and to listen to them more and to support them more.
    • 47% overall wanted someone they trust they can talk to if they experience violence or abuse.
    • Girls also hold police responsible for addressing gender-based violence. They stated that they want the problem of violence recognized and tackled by their communities and the national authorities.
    • In relation to early pregnancy, early marriage and gender-based violence, girls want information, and communication in school, at home and in the media. This was prioritized above any form of legislation or policy change.
      • “I will raise my voice, with the help of media, not to marry girls at a young age. Give them more education, like boys, and give them respect in society.” – Girl, Pakistan
      • “Educate guardians, parents and the girl child on the importance of being educated rather than being married at an early age. Parents and guardians having strong parental guidance of stopping early marriages.” – Girl, Zimbabwe
    • Programs of education, safe spaces, “education about self-esteem” were called for again and again.
    • “Education is very important so I will tell [other girls] to complete their education so that they can do anything in their life, and then they won’t need anyone’s help” – Girl, Pakistan

About Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative

Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest international development agencies, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty. Visit and for more information.

Media contact

Dena Allen, Senior Media and Public Relations Manager, Plan Canada T: 416.920.1654 x326 | C: 416.723.6340 |