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Introducing the Asia Girls' Leadership Index

Overview

The 2020 Asia Girls Report: Introducing The Asia Girls' Leadership Index

With only a decade remaining on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, countries must invest in adolescent girls now! 

The 2020 Asia Girls’ Report, presents the current state of girls’ leadership in Asia, based on the findings of our research (including a literature review, survey and key informant interviews) and the Asia Girls’ Leadership Index. Using available data from official global databases, the Index measures the opportunities of adolescent girls and young women in the 19 SAARC and ASEAN countries to develop and demonstrate leadership capabilities.

The first research of this kind, it gives insights into key trends and issues that enable or constrain empowerment and leadership of adolescent girls and young women across six domains: education, health, economic opportunities, protection, political voice and representation and laws and policies. To view the full data sets for each domain, sub-domain and country summary profiles, click the download button.

This new analysis helps those working in government, academia, aid and development to further understand how investments in certain areas can help to close the gaps in gender inequality and “leave no one behind”.

Executive Summary

The 2020 Asia Girls Report and Girls’ Leadership Index, is the first of its kind.

In any part of the world, a girl’s transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood is marked by challenges and complexity. During her second decade, she will experience rapid biological and psychosocial changes that will affect every aspect of her life: the roles and responsibilities she has within her family, the relationships she develops and maintains with her peers and in her community, her opportunities to pursue education and access health care, and her ability to participate in the decision-making processes that will affect her now and in the future.

That transition can be particularly challenging in Asia, which is home to more than half of the world’s 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18 Asia is a vast region, both in terms of its geographic scope and its diversity of socio-cultural, geo-political and economic contexts. In many parts of Asia, girls and women are undervalued, underestimated, and continue to encounter gender-related restrictions and inequalities that keep them from realising their full potential. These discriminatory attitudes and practices significantly limit the ability of girls and women to define and act on their own goals, and to realise their rights.

To gain deeper insights into the key trends and issues that enable or constrain empowerment and leadership of adolescent girls and young women, Plan International conducted research on the 19 countries that make up the Association of South East Asian Countries (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC): Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Timor-Leste (which is not a full member of ASEAN but applied for membership in 2011 and is part of the ASEAN Regional Forum).

Although there is not one universally agreed-upon definition of girls’ leadership, for the purpose of this research, we consider leadership in its broader form as the individual competencies, skills and environmental conditions required to support girls to exercise agency, voice and participation in their own lives, households and communities, rather than what is required to prepare them for leadership roles in business and government. 

Section 1 of this report explores the situation of girls and young women in Asia, including a broad discussion of the complex and dynamic transition girls undertake through adolescence into adulthood (and the many factors that can enable or constrain that transition). 

Section 2 looks at how we constructed the Asia Girls’ Leadership Index and what it is designed to measure. 

Section 3 presents an overview of our research, including a summary of the methodologies used and the limitations identified. 

Section 4 provides the integrated findings of our research and the Asia Girls’ Leadership Index across six domains: education, health, economic opportunities, protection, political voice and representation, and national laws and policies. The Index is a composite index that measures the opportunities of adolescent girls and young women in the 19 SAARC and ASEAN countries to develop and demonstrate leadership capabilities. It can be used as an instrument to support and inform policymakers’, donors’ and stakeholders’ investment in leadership development for adolescent girls and young women at regional and national levels. It can also inform the design of contextually relevant and strategic programmes and monitor change in those programmes over time. 

The Index rankings, reflect the current situation of girls’ leadership in each country relative to the other countries. Of note, no single country received the same ranking across all domains (i.e., no country ranked first or last across all six domains). This suggests that, when compared with their neighbours in the region, some countries are doing better than others on certain domains, but no one country is excelling across all domains. The rankings alone mask the complex and variable reality behind the relative positions. The Index values, shown in Table 5, offer a more nuanced and practical understanding of girls’ leadership in the region. 

The three highest-ranking countries on the Index are Singapore (.778), Philippines (.717) and Vietnam (.712), all of which are members of ASEAN. Singapore’s Index value is considerably higher than that of the second- and third-ranked countries, largely due to its first-place scores in four domains. The difference between the second- and third-ranking countries (Philippines and Vietnam, respectively) is more subtle, with Philippines’ component domain rankings ranging from first (laws and policies) to 12th (health) and Vietnam’s component domain rankings ranging from first (voice and participation) to 11th (protection).

The three lowest-ranking countries on the Index are Pakistan (.361), Bangladesh (.401) and Afghanistan (.403), all of which are members of SAARC. Pakistan’s ranking is considerably lower than the second- and third-lowest ranked countries due to its 18th-place rankings in three domains and the lowest possible ranking in one additional domain. The difference between the second- and third-lowest ranking countries (Bangladesh and Afghanistan, respectively) is minimal. Bangladesh’s component domain rankings range from 14th (education) to the lowest possible rankings in the laws and policies and protection domains. In comparison, Afghanistan’s component domain rankings range from 15th (voice and participation) to the lowest possible rankings in the education and economic opportunities domains. 

Finally, Section 5 presents a call to action for countries in Asia to invest in adolescent girls and includes our proposed strategic approach for making this investment. With the signing of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, countries around the world committed to equitable and inclusive development that leaves no one behind. Since then, adolescent girls have received more attention than ever in global and national-level discourse. 

Plan International is committed to supporting countries to respond to this call to action. Section 5 presents a six-step process for developing an adolescent girls’ framework. It is based on our global experience advancing gender equality for girls, and more specifically, our contributions to the development of the Lao PDR adolescent girls’ development framework (the Noi 2030 Framework). The key elements of a successful adolescent girls’ framework are presented to further guide countries’ development of adolescent girls’ frameworks.

Investments in adolescent health and well-being are widely recognised as the best investments that can be made to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Countries that invest in girls’ development and equality are doing more than investing in girls in their own right; they are also investing in tomorrow’s adults and, as a result, the future of their nations as a whole.

Plan International’s 2020 Asia Girls’ Report, including the introduction of the Asia Girls’ Leadership Index, presents the evidence to inform countries’ decisions and investments in their young populations, as well as practical tools and guidance that will support their implementation and the extent to which they achieve their 2030 commitments. 

  • Full report
  • Domain & Sub-Domain Data Set
  • Country Summary Profiles