Adolescent girls feel unable to speak about up injustices says report

Girls' education

School is the place where millions of adolescent girls around the world feel most empowered. But it’s also where many face routine injustice and threats of sexual violence.

More than 7000 girls and boys aged 12 to 16 in 11 countries across four regions spoke about their experiences of schools, families and their communities for the report Hear Our Voices, which is published today.

Produced by the charity Plan International as part of its Because I am a Girl campaign, it is one of the largest studies of adolescent girls’ rights, empowerment and gender equality.

Plan said: “The study’s results bring the daily realities that girls face into vivid colour. They provide consistent, disturbing illustrations of the most pressing concerns for adolescent girls, giving powerful insights into the issues facing them, in their own words.”

Girls say that they feel voiceless in the face of violence and many expect to be victims because of their gender. One girl from Ecuador said: “Girls want to have more self-confidence to not feel afraid or ashamed to express their feeling and needs.”

Another from Egypt said: “I feel that I will be embarrassed by anything I say, so I don’t speak at all.”

Encouragingly, 41% of the girls reported they “always” or “often” complete at least nine years of school. In Asia, that rose to half.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, 60% of girls said they are always encouraged to succeed at school as much as boys.

But the report also describes how girls in the poorest regions are among the most disadvantaged people in the world. They face barriers to survival and development simply because they are girls.

Among the findings were:

  • One in three said they never speak up and say what they think around boys
  • Only 49% said they always participate in class as much as boys
  • 58% never or seldom return to school after having a child
  • 28% never or seldom feel safe on their way to school
  • 38% never or seldom feel comfortable using school toilets because of health hazards and sexual harassment

Early pregnancy, often from child marriage, was identified as a large contributory factor to girls dropping out of school. Child marriage is one of the target areas of #EducationCountdown – you can read more and download a child marriage fact sheet here.

The report says: “Social stigma and unofficial school rules against pregnant girls or young mothers attending classes keep many from continuing their education. Schools do not provide alternative pathways to young mothers for continuing and completing their secondary education, or childcare facilities on-site, which would address the issue of a lack of childcare as a reason why many young mothers do not return to school.

“Further, girls reported facing gender-based violence on the way to and from school, and at times at school, particularly around school latrines, which sometimes leads to early pregnancy and school dropout.”

Sarah Hendriks, Global Gender Equality and Inclusion Advisor for Plan’s Because I am a Girl programmes, said: “This study is of enormous importance, highlighting the real challenges and barriers girls all over the world face.

“Whether they are burdened with housework that prevents them attending school or at risk of teenage pregnancy and sexual assault, girls are being abused and limited every day and this is the first time we have really heard from so many girls on these topics.

“While these findings are not new, we can’t ignore now the level of violation, as the results bring thousands of daily lived realities into vivid colour. The plight of girls can only truly improve when everyone in society values girls as much as boys.”

You can read the full Hear Our Voices report here.

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