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Girl activists fear for safety, making gains at huge personal cost – new report

Girls' Rights

One in five (17%) girl and young women activists have feared for their safety while carrying out their work, according to new research by girls’ rights NGO Plan International.

The global study – which involved over a thousand young female activists from 26 countries, aged between 15 and 24 – lays bare how girls face a multitude of challenges as they campaign for change, facing risks ranging from hostility from community members to oppressive policing and online abuse.

One in 10 (9%) have faced threats of physical violence as a result of their work, while 15% have experienced online harassment and abuse.

The single biggest barrier to girls’ activism is a shortage of funding, named by more than half (54%) of girls surveyed as the main factor holding their campaigning back.

Despite this, the report‘Turning the World Around: Girl and young women activists leading the fight for equality’ – found that nearly all girl activists (95%) say campaigning has had a positive impact on their lives, making them feel proud, empowered, and capable.

The research highlights the experiences of young female campaigners and is launched ahead of International Day of the Girl on 11 October. It includes a survey of 840 girl and young women activists – one of the biggest to date – which also found that:

  • Girls’ activism is creating change, with more than half (61%) of those surveyed by Plan International saying the impact of their activism has met or exceeded their expectations.
  • Gender equality is the single most important issue for girl activists, with 60% naming gender equality or gender-based violence as a priority issue.
  • Activism takes a huge toll on girls’ mental health and can come at huge personal cost. One in four (25%) say they’ve felt emotionally unwell or anxious while engaging in activism work, for LGBTIQ+ activists, this figure rises to one in three (31%).
  • One in four (27%) girls cited negative views from members of their family or community as another barrier to their campaigning work.

Girls and young women were found to be engaging in activism on a range of issues, ranging from gender-based violence to sexual and reproductive health rights, climate and the environment.

For Oileán Carer Stritch, 23, from Ireland, the climate crisis is an issue she feels strongly about. She helps run a community-based clothing reuse hub Change Clothes Crumlin (CCC), where locals can go and swap their clothes with other people, reducing their carbon footprint.

“You can’t have climate action without community,” she says.

Oileán has a degree in Politics, Geography and International Relations and currently works for a research charity. On top of helping to run Change Clothes Crumlin, she is the first Irish Climate Youth Delegate and attended COP 26 and COP 27. She is also a Youth Advisory Panel member for Plan International.

“From taking action on the climate crisis to stopping child marriage, girl activists are changing their communities – and the world around them – for the better. Injustice is driving girls to act,” says Paul O’Brien, CEO of Plan International Ireland.

“At the same time, our research has found that as a girl or young woman, campaigning for change is often tough and unrelenting. In a world where gender discrimination remains widespread, young female activists are all too often ignored, or worse, harassed, or ostracised. Their incredible achievements often come at real personal cost. Access to funding and policy making spaces is also often in short supply, adding to the struggle to get their voices heard.

“Girls and young women have the right to be heard and to shape the decisions that affect their lives. They are making great achievements despite the personal risks to them, showing great courage. Without their work, we remain a long way from achieving gender equality.

“That’s why it’s critical that we all play our part in supporting the work of girl activists. Their safety and wellbeing must be protected, and we need to widen participation in key decision-making processes, to make sure that our future generations aren’t being left behind.”

Ahead of International Day of the Girl, Plan International is standing with girls and young women as they call for governments, donors, and civil society to play their part in supporting girl activists to create a better world. Key recommendations include:

  • Increased funding for girl and youth-led activist initiatives and groups.
  • Governments to support girls and young women to engage meaningfully in all areas of public life. This should include regular access to decision-makers and creating mechanisms for girls to engage in civil society, and formally within institutions.
  • Quality education on gender equality, human rights and democratic governance to build girls’ understanding of activism, and skills training in areas such as organising and public speaking, to build confidence in girls’ ability to campaign and have influence on the topics they care about.
  • All power holders to play their part in tackling age and gender discrimination, and the threat of violence, and to create safe, open spaces, to remove the barriers to girls speaking out.

For more information, activist case studies, interviews or a copy of the report, please contact:

Eileen Martin, Plan International Ireland

Email: Eileen.Martin@Plan-International.org

Tel: 087 9682108


Carole Wickham, Plan International Ireland

Tel: 086 8222994


  • Turning the World Around: Girl and young women activists leading the fight for equality is part of Plan International’s State of the World’s Girl’s Report series. Since 2007, the State of the World’s Girls Report has been produced annually by Plan International, with the aim of highlighting key issues affecting girls’ lives through original research.
  • The 26 countries included in this year’s report, released on 3 October 2023 at 20.00 BST, are Ethiopia, Jordan. Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Togo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Japan, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Paraguay, Canada.
  • Our methodology includes a survey of 840 female activists aged between 15-24 – one of the biggest to date. More than 200 additional girl and young women activists took part in a series of peer-to-peer interviews led by other girl and young women activists and 57 girls attended focus groups, bringing the total number of girls and young women involved to over a thousand.

Learn more about Plan International.