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Girls’ rights activists share their views with the European Parliament

9 October 2017
[BRUSSELS]: This week, two girls’ rights activists from Brazil and Uganda will tell Members of the European Parliament why girls must be encouraged and enabled to lead, from community to international level, in a series of activities taking place during the European Week of Action for Girls 2017.

Girls’ voices and views must be heard and heeded

The actions will put girls themselves front and centre of the debate – something which happens all too infrequently.

“Girls know what they go through, and are in the best position to devise solutions to their problems. But their opinions are not always listened to, because many people consider girls to be inferior to boys,” says Ritah.

“Girls want to be more involved politically, and leaders should listen to our asks. Every day we face prejudice and we are excluded from society. It’s about time our voices were heard,” says Maria Fernanda.


#GirlsTakeover: Stepping into positions of power

As part of Plan International’s global #GirlsTakeover, MEPs Heidi Hautala, Vice-Chair of the Group of Greens/European Free Alliance and Linda McAvan, Chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee, will symbolically cede their positions to 18-year-old Maria Fernanda, from Brazil (09/10), and 22-year-old Ritah, from Uganda (10/10), respectively.

The #GirlsTakeover will see over 1000 girls and young women across 60 countries step into leadership positions across political, economic and social spaces, from community to international level, in an emphatic statement of their power and potential.

The participation of two prominent Members of the European Parliament in this initiative is particularly pertinent given the poor representation of women in parliaments around the world – just over 20% of national parliamentarians are women, and less than 1% are women under 30 years old.

“Girls have amazing power and potential, but they face a wall of resistance. We must all come together to break down that resistance, so that all girls everywhere are free to learn, lead, decide and thrive,” says Alexandra Makaroff, Plan International’s EU Representative.

"Seeing is believing. Studies show just how important and empowering it is for girls to actually see women on leader positions. I am happy to participate in this takeover and for my part encourage girls to take over every day," says Heidi Hautala.

EU commitment to gender equality in external action

Ritah and Maria Fernanda will also intervene in the joint exchange of views of the Committees on Development and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on the implementation of the Gender Action Plan (10/10); and Ritah will speak in the Committee on Social Affairs and the Environment of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly on the promotion of girls’ empowerment through education (12/10).

With the adoption of the new Gender Action Plan 2016-2020[1] (GAP), the EU committed itself to promoting gender equality in EU external action, including strengthening girls' and women's voice and participation. It aims to increase women and girls’ participation in policy and decision-making at all levels, and support them in challenging detrimental social and cultural norms that reinforce the belief that leadership is a male pursuit.

The GAP also promotes the social and economic rights and empowerment of women and girls. Education is essential for girls’ empowerment, yet today more than 100 million young women around the world can’t read a single sentence, and one in five adolescent girls across the globe continue to be denied their right to education.

“Young women and girls are key to driving forward progress in developing countries, but they cannot achieve the systematic change that’s needed by themselves. They need partners, the European Parliament has been one of those partners and I’m keen that it continues to be a champion of young women and girls’ rights. During the European Week of Action for Girls our committee agenda is dedicated to advancing women’s rights and I’m delighted that Ritah has been able to come and work with me this week to underline our support for young women and girls around the world,” says Linda McAvan.


Facts and figures

Hashtag: #GirlsTakeover
Only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians are women. [2]
Less than 1% of parliamentarians globally are women and under the age of 30.
As of January 2017, only 18.3% of government ministers were women.[3]
As at March 2015, only 10 out of 152 elected Heads of State worldwide were women, and only 14 of 194 governments were headed by women.[4]
Fewer than 3% of CEOs heading the world’s 500 leading corporations are women.[5]

Plan International’s report, Unlock the Power of Girls Now, released on 2 October, argues that gender equality must be the social and political issue of our time. Read the full report at

A global movement

The takeovers of Linda McAvan, Heidi Hautala, and the girls’ interventions in EP Committee meetings are part of several happenings in Brussels during the European Week of Action for Girls, which takes place from 09-13 October. Other positions being taken over include First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, and Ambassador Mara Marinaki, EEAS Principal Advisor on Gender and on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Other high-profile individuals participating in the #GirlsTakeover globally include the Prime Minister of Canada, Prime Minister of Finland, President of El Salvador, the Secretary General of the OECD, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, and the CEO’s of Google Australia, Ikea Switzerland, and Accenture Netherlands.

About the European Week of Action for Girls

The European Week of Action for Girls is an annual week long event, which aims to ensure that girls’ empowerment is promoted and their rights are protected and fulfilled in the EU’s external action, through adequate policies, funding and programs. The 2017 edition of the week takes place from 9 – 13 October. The centrepiece of the week will be the inaugural European Week of Action for Girls “Girls Summit” which will take place on 11 October to mark the International Day of the Girl Child. Find out more about the Week and its Programme here.

About Plan International

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Through our actions, we will contribute to ensuring 100 million girls learn, lead, decide and thrive. Founded 80 years ago, we are working in over 70 countries worldwide. To learn more about our work with the EU, go to


[1] Joint Staff Working Document “Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations 2016-2020"

[2] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as of 1 June 2017”. 

[3] Ibid. 

[4] UN (2015) Power and decision-making: 

[5] Fortune (2017) 2017 Fortune Global 500 List of CEOs: