Why Global Citizens Should Care
Plan International’s report shows that girls want to become leaders, but that they expect to have to confront sexism and harassment in so doing. This needs to change. Stand up for Global Goal 5 on gender equality and take action now.

Stereotypes are holding young women back and preventing them from entering leadership roles, according to a new report.

The report, “Taking the Lead: Girls and Young Women on Changing the Face of Leadership,” was released by humanitarian organization Plan International at the Women Deliver conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. Its findings include details not only on how many girls want to be leaders, but how many feel sure they will have to confront issues of harassment, discrimination, and stereotyping.

“This is an issue across the whole of girls’ lives,” Sarah Carson, head of campaigns for Plan International, told Global Citizen. “It starts when they’re in the home and they experience those stereotypes that girls should stay at home, and then it continues when girls are told that they shouldn’t be going to school, but their brother goes to school instead. And then it continues when they get into work and they face harassment and discrimination at work.”

Plan International, in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, surveyed 10,000 girls for this report, aged 15 to 24 years old, across 19 countries, including Canada, the United States, Denmark, India, Japan, Peru, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Carson said that in order to improve the statistics, the world needs to challenge sexual stereotypes.

“Our society is a male-dominant society, so the girls don’t get a chance to come forward and orthodox thinking prevents girls from coming forward for leadership,” a girl from India said in the report.

The report’s key findings showed that 59% of girls and young women want to be leaders and that they are confident in their abilities to do so (62% said they were confident or very confident in their ability to lead). But they also acknowledged they would face gender-specific obstacles as leaders.

In fact, 60% of girls and young women believe women have to work harder than men to be respected, and 93% believe female leaders face unwanted physical contact.

On the bright side, Carson noted that there were interesting findings when it came to how women and girls perceive leadership, especially when it comes to gender equality.

“Girls are seeking a new kind of leadership,” she said. “Rather than wanting to be individual women that are in charge of everything, it’s more about collectively [working] with their peers … to change their communities and to create change on gender equality.”

The new report is part of Plan International’s Girls Get Equal campaign, which is all about promoting the leadership of girls and young women by eliminating stereotypes and providing platforms for them to be involved in the decisions that affect them most, while also aiming to provide a safe space online for them to speak up and speak out.

The research released this week also showed that aspirations of leadership increased with education.

While young women see barriers, they also see a new kind of leadership that could be the key to advancing gender equality.

“The concept we tend to have in mind when we think of leaders is an individual stood at a podium, who is speaking as an isolated person, and I think that’s a very stereotypically male perspective of what leadership is,” Carson said. “The girls that we spoke to are saying, that’s not what they think leadership is. It’s absolutely about community leadership and working with each other.”


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