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The EU must move from words to action on girls’ rights

6 October 2014
On the occasion of the European Week of Action for Girls 2014, Plan International’s EU Office is calling for concrete action from the EU to tackle the engrained social norms and institutionalised inequality which result in discrimination against girls.

The EU must take action across four areas to achieve lasting change for girls. These are:

1) Attitudinal change: social, family and community
2) Political action: the state, public policy and the law
3) Economic empowerment: equal opportunities, decent work and real choices
4) Participation: engaging girls in collective action.


Attitudinal change: tackling the root causes of inequality

It is at the socio-cultural level that inequality is at its most potent. The idea that women are subordinate to men, and that men and women have completely different roles and responsibilities in life, has become engrained in many societies.

“Tackling these engrained social norms and attitudes lies at the heart of tackling gender inequality,” adds Makaroff. “We need to work with girls themselves, but also with parents, communities and the state itself. Men and boys also have a crucial role to play in promoting gender equality. Change will take time, but we know that it is possible. The EU can and should play an important role in this regard.”

Political action: tackling institutionalised inequality

Gender inequality is manifested in every institution of the state, whether it’s social, economic or political.

The governance structures through which society is organised, including political, legal, judicial and educational, implicitly favour men. As a result, male dominance continues to be reinforced and replicated, ensuring women and girls are treated as second-class citizens.

The EU must target its action to address the root causes and institutionalised discrimination against girls and women, not merely its symptoms. The EU has a number of tools at its disposal to do this, and the upcoming review of both the Gender Action Plan[1] and Human Rights Strategic Framework[2] offer ideal opportunities.

“It is critical that these strategies marry up; they must complement and reinforce each other. In reviewing these strategies, the EU must focus on tackling the root causes of gender inequality,” says Makaroff.

Mainstreaming versus concrete action: Not “either/or”

In order to tackle gender inequality at its heart, the EU must ensure specific actions are targeted at women and girls. This goes beyond mainstreaming, which alone risks dissipating support via actions which only tangentially address women’s and girls’ empowerment.

“Failing to invest in girls is not only a missed opportunity, it’s tantamount to planning for poverty,” warns Makaroff. “Investing in girls means empowering them to stand up for their rights, to get an education, access to health care, find decent employment and be in control of their own lives.

“This is critical to ensure lasting change and a better future, not just for girls themselves, but for their families, their communities and their countries.”

Editor's notes

About the European Week of Action for Girls

The European Week of Action for Girls 2014 is organised under the theme, Girl Power: From the shadows to centre stage.

It will draw attention to the negative impact of social norms on girls and women, and identify what policymakers and donors should do to support policies and promising initiatives that prompt positive social transformation, empowering girls both socially and economically on the road to a brighter future.

The European Week of Action for Girls is organised by Plan EU Office under the patronage of the European Parliament and in partnership with the United Nations Brussels. It is supported by several civil society organisations. For more information go to:

The European Week of Action for Girls launch event, From poverty to prosperity: Achieving lasting change for girls, takes place from 15.00-17.00 on Monday 6 October at the Hotel Silken Berlaymont. To view the agenda of the week go to:

About Plan International

Plan International is one of the world’s largest child rights and development organisations working in 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. In 2013, Plan worked with 78 million children in 90,229 communities. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Plan International’s EU Office strives to ensure the promotion and protection of child rights is a priority for the EU in policy and practice. For more information go to:

For more information contact:

Louise Hagendijk
Communications and Media Officer
T: 02 504 6056

[1] EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and Development

[2] EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy