Plan International interviewed over 7,000 teens aged 12 to 16 in focus groups in 11 developing countries. The researchers believe it’s one of the largest studies of its kind, conducted to enhance their Child Centred Community Development approach and combine social action with social research.[i] On the positive side, girls were likely to say they matter in their communities, especially in Asia and Central and South America. But, typically girls dion’t know they have rights and felt pressured to be “good girls.” A third of the girls said they never speak up around boys and men (especially problematic in East and Southern Africa and Central and South America) and only 38% said they have control over their marriages. This choice was considered the most important measure of empowerment. Girls in Asia and Western Africa had less choice about marriage, but a Bangladeshi girl reported girls decide about getting marriage because “now they are aware from different TV programs on negative impact of early marriage.” About half the girls said they didn’t have a choice about getting pregnant. Many weren’t educated about safe sex or contraception.
Access to school was the second most important measure of empowerment overall, but the most important issue in Asia. They feel encouraged to do well in school by parents and teachers, although low-income girls get less encouragement. Boys in Uganda said “educated girls bring in more dowry” and girls are encouraged so that “they do not go for short cuts like sugar daddies.” One in four girls didn’t feel safe on their way to school or feel comfortable using the school latrine (especially in West Africa), reporting violence is likely to occur around these outbuildings. Violence against girls is considered normal in many areas: A girl in Nicaragua said, “Rape and kidnapping cases are a given.” Almost half said boys don’t share household shores, especially in Africa, which takes time away from studying. An Egyptian girl said, “We are burdened with all household tasks. After marriage, we work even more.” A Bangladeshi girl asked about her gender, “What is the use of showing them respect; they are good for nothing?” These factors lead to girls dropping out of school although girls said their parents supported their education. A Moroccan girl observed, “Though we are girls, we have dreams and hobbies, and we want to achieve goals, but we don’t find help that can lead us to fulfill these dreams.”
[i] “Hear Our Voices Report,” Plan International, October 2014.