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Girls challenging the gender rules

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules

Girls challenging the gender rules

Real Choices, Real Lives study

Since 2007, our Real Choices, Real Lives Cohort Study has been tracking the lives of over 120 girls across nine countries, providing insights into the choices, decisions and realities that shape girls’ lives as they grow up in a gendered world.

In 2019, our analysis shows that as girls are reaching adolescence, they are noticing, questioning, or rejecting expectations around their behaviour and roles in at least one area of their lives.

This ranges from views about division of household responsibilities and how girls and boys spend their time, through to what is considered acceptable female behaviour and future aspirations.

Key findings

All 118 Cohort girls have challenged gendered norms

Early adolescenceis an important period of identity formation

Social Level influences are significant both in forming or breaking gendered social expectations

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules - Synthesis Report

The Girls Challenging the Gender Rules Synthesis report explores the 2019 findings from the 118 Cohort girls across the three regions and nine countries.

Girls Challenging the Gender Rules
A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study with her mother

Latin America and the Caribbean: Brazil, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador

From relationships and children to playing football and future careers, our analysis explores how all 35 Cohort girls in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador are challenging expectations of girls in their communities.

Cycling with her sibling in Cambodia, 2018
A girl cycles with her sibling in Cambodia

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam

Explore our analysis of the 46 Cohort girls in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam who have all noticed, questioned, or rejected gendered norms at some point in their lives.

A girl from our Real Choices, Real Lives study in Uganda
A Cohort girl in Uganda prepares food

Sub-Saharan Africa: Benin, Togo and Uganda

Read our in-depth analysis of how the 37 Cohort girls entering adolescence in Benin, Togo, and Uganda are challenging the gender rules in their lives.

Stories from the Study

Graphic showing a boy and girls playing together


The 2014 economic crisis in Brazil led to Juliana’s grandmother becoming the family breadwinner. As her grandmother’s own attitudes and behaviours towards traditional gender roles change, Juliana also begins to notice, question, and challenge gendered norms. By 2018, Juliana criticises many of the unequal expectations of behaviour for girls and boys, and describes how she speaks up against them:

They say I’m a tomboy, that I’m always playing ball… with the boys... I tell them that this is sexist, because a girl can play ball just like a boy.

In our 2019 report, we explore how these shifts in household dynamics can impact girls’ attitudes and behaviours.

Physicality Graphic


In 2016, Ly in Vietnam begins to reject expectations that she dress and behave like a girl, her mother says; 

she doesn’t like wearing skirts, [she] likes boys’ clothes”, and in 2018 says that she chooses to be more “manly”. 

Like a number of SEA Cohort girls and families, Ly associates violence and aggression with ‘masculinity’ and when challenging expectations of ‘femininity’ and being more like a boy, Ly describes herself as “aggressive” and says that she hits her peers at school.

Our 2019 report explores the role of corporal punishment in these harmful associations of what it means to be ‘masculine’ and what that means for girls challenging gendered norms.

Graphic showing a girl and woman talking


Between 2014 and 2017, Margaret’s attitude towards expectations to be obedient changed. In 2014, she was more ‘acceptant’, saying:

sometimes I cry when I don’t want to do [the household work]… I always do it in the end.

By 2016 she shows a degree of ‘disruption’, saying, “I don’t do the tasks my mother gives me, I do what I want.” However, in 2017, we see that Margaret is once again more acceptant of the expectation placed on her: “I wouldn’t want my parents to think of me as disobedient.”

Our 2019 report explores the possible influences on Margaret’s deviation in 2016 and what may have led to the shift again in 2017.