A New Era for Girls | Plan International Skip to main content
Since the Beijing Declaration, life has got better for girls but gains are uneven across regions and countries.

A New Era for Girls

Overview

While girls’ lives are better today than they were 25 years ago when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, gains are uneven across regions and countries. This is particularly true for adolescent girls.

Taking stock of 25 years of progress

Nearly 64 million girls were born in 1995, the year the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, beginning their lives as the global community committed to improving their rights. In 2020, nearly 68 million girls are expected to be born. The analysis presented in this report shows that while girls’ lives are better today than they were 25 years ago, these gains are uneven across regions and countries. This is particularly true for adolescent girls.

To accelerate progress, girls need to be involved in both the decisionmaking and designing of solutions that impact their future. This report demonstrates the need to focus on the realities girls face today and addresses the critical issues of ending gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM); making sure girls have access to 12 years of education and the skills they need for the workforce; and improving girls’ health and nutrition.

This analysis is not intended to be an exhaustive assessment of girls’ rights and well-being, but rather a review of progress for girls in key dimensions of their lives. It draws upon internationally comparable time series data to assess advancements against the strategic objectives for girls set out in the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago. Where a lack of data prevents trend analysis, the current situation of girls is highlighted.

The evidence provides a foundation for recommendations to global, national and regional stakeholders on important actions that would enable girls to successfully transition into adulthood with the ability to make their own choices and with the social and personal assets to live a fulfilled life.

Executive Summary

Foreword

Today’s more than 1.1 billion girls are poised to take on the future. Every day, girls are breaking boundaries and barriers to lead and foster a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all. They are tackling issues like child marriage, education inequality, violence, climate justice, and inequitable access to healthcare. Girls are proving they are unstoppable.

Back in 1995, the world adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most comprehensive policy agenda for gender equality – with the vision of ending discrimination against women and girls. But today, 25 years later, discrimination and limiting stereotypes remain rife. Girls’ life expectancy has extended by eight years, yet for many the quality of that life is still far from what was envisioned. Girls have the right to expect more. The realities they face today, in contexts of technological change and humanitarian emergencies, are both remarkably different from 1995 and more of the same: with violence, institutionalised biases, poor learning and life opportunities, and multiple inequalities unresolved. There are major breakthroughs still to be made.

There are many success stories: Fewer girls are getting married or becoming mothers, and more are in school and literate – acquiring key foundational skills for lifelong success. But progress has been uneven and far from equitable. Girls from the poorest households or living in fragile or humanitarian settings are not benefiting from the expansion in education, while the girls who are in school are struggling to secure the quality education they need to compete in a rapidly changing workforce, where digital and transferable skills, like critical thinking and confidence, are indispensable.

Today, no matter where a girl lives, she is at risk of encountering violence.

Today, no matter where a girl lives, she is at risk of encountering violence in every space – in the classroom, home and community. And the types of violence she will come into contact with have become increasingly complex with the rise of technology. However, technology has also opened up opportunities for girls to grow their networks and learn digital and transferable skills that will prepare them for life and work.

To have an education and a future, girls must also be healthy. Yet, when it comes to making decisions about their health and well-being, girls still face significant barriers to accessing and benefiting from health services to meet their specific needs, such as those related to sexual and reproductive health – due to cost, stigma, limited age-appropriate information, fear of side effects or limited decision-making autonomy.

Girl performs skit at Girls Get Equal campaign rally in Yumbe district
Girls in Uganda are pushing for progress through Girls Get Equal.

In 2020, a gender-equitable world is still a long way off. The next steps for change must meaningfully include girls as decision-makers and designers of the solutions to the challenges and opportunities they face every day.

Girls are rights holders and equal partners in the fight for gender equality. They represent a tremendous engine for transformational change towards gender equality. They deserve the full support of the global community to be empowered to successfully transition to adulthood with their rights intact, able to make their own informed choices and with the social and personal assets acquired to live fulfilled lives.

We know the best advocates for girls are girls. Every girl is a powerful agent of change in her own right. And, when girls come together to demand action, shape policies, and hold governments to account, we can together change our schools, families, communities and nations for the better. As leaders, it’s our duty to bridge the generations, working with and for today’s girls to raise their voices and achieve their dreams. 

  • Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF
  • Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women
  • Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO, Plan International

Download the full report