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New global report questions why girls’ rights remain unfinished business in 2015

Continuing widespread lack of gender equality revealed in report from Plan Canada

TORONTO, ON, October 5, 2015 – New research commissioned by Plan International and released today in Canada reveals that girls’ rights remain unfinished business.

The research study, titled Girls Speak Out, is based on interviews 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 research is being released in advance of the fourth annual International Day of the Girl on October 11, 2015.

The key finding from the research is that girls’ rights are still very much a work in progress. Among the girls surveyed in the international Girls Speak Out study, only 37 per cent believe that they are often or always given the same opportunities as boys, and 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.

“It’s inexcusable that, in 2015, millions of girls around the world are still held back, their opportunities limited and their safety threatened, simply because they are girls,” said Nidhi Bansal, Senior Gender Equality Advisor, Plan Canada. “Girls rights are human rights. It’s important that we celebrate the successes of the past decades, but, as we look to the future, we need to break down systemic barriers so girls not only survive, but thrive.”

The facts are stark:

  • 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 for girls aged 15-19 in developing countries.
  • Globally, 30 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 experience violence by a partner.

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. In fact, 68 per cent say that those who marry young are more likely to experience violence in the home. In addition, 50 per cent say 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 attacks, and 47 per cent say they do not feel safe on their way to school.

Among the Canadian girls interviewed, many 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.

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.

“One of the biggest ways to combat these challenges is through awareness,” said Isabel, 22, one of the Canadian girls interviewed. “A lot of the time, people don’t really like to talk about these issues. They think that as Canadians in a developed country we’ve already overcome all these discrimination issues, but they don’t really notice that in the background they’re still happening.”

The global report did reveal some progress to acknowledge and celebrate. Of the girls surveyed in the developing countries, 73 per cent agree that adolescent girls are becoming more valued in their communities than they used to be, and 88 per cent agree that girls have more opportunities in life than their mothers did. Canadian girls, meanwhile, 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.

“The good news is, girls are becoming more valued, and girls themselves are feeling empowered and hopeful for their rights in the future,” said Bansal. “However, despite their optimism, they can’t do it alone. Unless systemic barriers are broken down, girls’ rights will remain unfinished business. It is society, not just girls, that needs to change.”

Because I am a Girl State of the World’s Girls report

The Girls Speak Out research was released as part of the 2015 Because I am a Girl State of the World’s Girls report, called The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights, which also includes commentary and insights from 14 leading activists, academics, politicians and writers.

Many of the expert contributors to the 2015 State of the World’s Girls report see the next few years as crucial to bringing about historic and significant transformation. This is a threshold moment, the contributors write, where the strides made in maternal mortality, female education and legal protection under the umbrella of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be built upon by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“There is still no country in the world where there is real gender equality…It (2015) has been a year to celebrate progress, to call for scaling up action, to question what is hindering gender equality and to make a renewed commitment to empowering women and girls,” writes stateswoman Graca Machel in The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights report.

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 |

Notes for editors:

  • The global report, The Unfinished Business of Girls’ Rights, is available now at this link:
  • The report is part of a series of annual reports produced by Plan International’s Because I am a Girl global campaign. The series of reports began in 2007 with the objective of marking progress and analyzing the barriers that still stand in the way of gender equality. The reports include recommendations for action, showing policymakers and planners what can make a difference to girls’ lives all over the world. The reports engage with external partners, academics, NGOs, donors and UN Agencies and have helped establish Plan International as a leader in the world of girls’ rights.