73% of girls say gender-based violence biggest barrier to gender equality

11 AUGUST 2020

Girls are demanding a bigger and more active role in the United Nations’ Beijing+25 process.

Some of the girls consulted for the Girls Platform for Action
Some of the girls consulted for the Girls Platform for Action

Girls worldwide believe gender-based violence is the biggest barrier that holds them back, according to our global survey.

A total of 1147 girls were consulted by Plan International and 350 of those, aged 14 to 19, from 12 countries, took part in qualitative interviews. These formed the basis of the ‘Girls’ Platform for Action research’, released today to mark the International Youth Day. 

An overwhelming 73% of girls identified violence and abuse experienced by them because of their gender as their top concern with those in rural areas hardest hit. The girls said the situation was worsening under COVID-19, with lockdown trapping girls in domestic violence and allowing perpetrators to avoid justice.

Girls speak out against violence

Damarias, from El Salvador said “We are always harassed on the streets, in the corners of our houses, whenever we go somewhere we are harassed, it has become so normal that now it is no longer taken as a crime. There are so many cases of sexual violence that have remained in impunity.” 

The message from the girls is loud and clear – progress is too slow

Pooja, from Nepal, said “I want to reiterate the support of men and boys are essential to ending gender-based violence and move towards gender equality.”

The global survey was conducted by Plan International to support girls in raising the key issues they want to see addressed in the 25th anniversary commemoration of the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – Generation Equality’.

Violence ‘insescapable’ feature of daily life for many girls

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said “Twenty-five years after the Beijing Platform for Action became the most progressive blueprint for women’s rights, girls are telling governments, communities and the Generation Equality leadership what is needed to make gender equality a reality. Tackling gender-based violence is at the top of that list.”

“They’ve told us that emergency response systems for survivors are poorly resourced and lack specialist provision and that justice systems are unresponsive.”

In the survey, girls described violence as often an inescapable feature of daily life experienced at home, at school, on the streets and on public transport. 

The respondents believed gender-based violence predetermined life outcomes for adolescent girls. They felt that, unless the violence and abuse perpetrated against them was addressed, progress in other areas would be undermined

Ms Albrectsen said “The message from the girls is loud and clear, progress is too slow and it will only move faster if those with the power to bring change finally engage meaningfully with girls, recognise their expertise, listen to their demands and view them as equal partners.”

Girls demand a more active role in fight for equality

While the Girls’ Platform for Action report was being researched, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the delay and change in format of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64) and the postponement of the Generation Equality Forum global gatherings in Mexico and Paris until 2021 which are all part of the Beijing+25 process. This set back the launch of the Action Coalitions, which presents an opportunity for adolescent voices to influence collective priorities and demand accountability around gender equality.

Girls are demanding a bigger and more active role in the Generation Equality process.

Their other demands included investment in and support for girls’ leadership by enabling access to leadership platforms; ensuring free and equitable secondary education; and investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to free sanitary products, safe and legal abortions and contraceptives.

Impact of COVID-19 on girls

The report shows that the economic burden of COVID-19 has put immense pressure on families around the world and girls in particular, with 63% of them citing school closures as an immediate concern during the pandemic. 

Adolescent girls are faced with increasing domestic care responsibilities and are being denied access to education, while this is less likely for boys. Girls are being left with a sense of abandonment and inferiority and the pandemic could undo much of the progress made in the 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action set out its blueprint for women’s rights and gender equality.

Ms Albrectsen said “The girls understood real progress as being directly tied to shifting discriminatory gender norms at the local level. They are ready to lead and are tired of being ignored, they are building networks to take collective action but they don’t have clear routes to engage in the formal processes. They want to speed things up and their own practical experience gives rise to many ideas as to how this might be done.”