Girls Challenging the Gender Rules (2019)

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules: Synthesis Report

Girls challenging the gender rules - synthesis report.

This report forms part of Plan International’s Real Choices, Real Lives longitudinal, qualitative research study – which is following the lives of girls living in nine countries* around the world from their birth (in 2006), until they turn 18 (in 2024).

This unique study looks in-depth at the experiences of girls as they grow up, offering genuine insights into the choices, decisions and realities that shape their lives as well as expectations of what they can be, and do from the moment they are born.

In this Synthesis Report, we summarise findings from across a set of three regional reports (focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa), which were compiled in 2019. The report series took an in-depth look at how – as the girls enter adolescence – they are noticing, questioning, and in some instances, rejecting expectations around their behaviour and roles across different areas of their lives.

Critically, we identified that all 118 of the cohort girls had questioned or challenged gender norms influencing their lives in some way, or at some moment, ranging from views about the household division of labour, to how girls (and boys) spend their time, through to what is considered acceptable female behaviour and future aspirations.

The findings also highlight:

  • the importance of early adolescence as a period of identity formation – providing a window for interventions to support the ‘disruption’ of inequitable gender norms.
  • that the process of norm change can fluctuate (with moments of ‘disruption’ later followed by moments of conformity) – reflecting the need for interventions to cover a breadth of issues and be sustained over time.
  • that girls’ social contexts are important and can serve to reinforce – or further challenge – gendered expectations, highlighting the need to engage families and communities in discussions.
  • That structural-level policies have influenced gender roles and gender equitable attitudes related to girls’ education, child/early marriage, but have had less influence related to corporal punishment.

Download the synthesis report

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules – Synthesis Report


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Findings from the series contribute to understanding how and why gendered social norms shift and provide evidence to inform the focus and scope of interventions to support positive social norm change.

Links to the regional reports from the series can be found on the Real Choices, Real Lives blog page.

*The nine countries are: Benin, Brazil, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, the Philippines, Togo, Uganda, and Vietnam.

**Names used in the study are pseudonyms.