Climate change, poverty, hunger and conflict are impossible to ignore. And as adolescent girls and young women get older, they’re starting to become more interested in social issues and increasingly aware of how politics has an effect on their lives.
Yet, around the world, girls and young women are underrepresented in — and rejected from —spaces where their voices and ideas are needed most.
“It’s pretty funny, because I think about all those skills — things that people tell me that I should be able to do in order to be able to participate. It’s like you need to be this … and you need to be able to voice your opinion and not be interrupted, and be strong and be a little bit cold, but not too cold ... We teach women that they need a whole three pages of skills before they can even get to it.” — Anna, 21, Germany
This year, Plan International’s annual State of the World’s Girls report focused on understanding girls’ and women’s attitudes toward, and experiences of, political and civic participation. We surveyed 29,000 girls and young women ages 15-24 from 29 countries, including the U.S.
What did we find? Girls are not a homogenous group, and their experiences are as diverse as they are; but they’re facing similar challenges regardless of where they live.
Girls who recognized the importance of their participation in political spaces conversely felt like they don’t actually have positive role models in politics who inspire them to get involved. On top of that, they don’t think politicians would take them seriously even if they tried to speak up.
“They think we’re too young to talk about it, that we don’t know anything … because it’s a girl talking, and they think it’s not a priority,” — Amanda, 15, Brazil
But the barriers that hold them back haven’t taken their hope. From our research, girls also felt that political participation was easier for them than it had been for their mothers and grandmothers — something likely impacted by shifting gender expectations and the advent of social media.
“I think that if people are active on social networks and talking about women’s leadership issues and so on, it can help a lot of young girls and young men to find their way. And, I also think that this is the easiest way today to reach people quickly.” — Minerva, 20, Togo
It’s important to take advantage of progress like this when it’s made, no matter how small it may seem. At Plan, we’re in it for the long haul, and ensuring decision-making spaces are more accessible for each new generation of girls is something we all must participate in.
Last month, two young women partnering with Plan spoke at an event on Capitol Hill about the Keeping Girls in School Act, which was reintroduced to congress in 2021 and is currently with the Senate. Plan is proud to endorse this bill and its aim to support educational opportunities and economic security for girls around the world.
Girls have a right to be heard and have their experiences taken into consideration when decisions are made. Together, they can inform policies and programs that aim to improve lives and promote gender equality.