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International Day of the Girl: 68% of girls feel held back by harmful gender stereotypes

11th October 2021

Harmful gender stereotypes are still widespread and affecting every aspect of girls’ lives, from the careers they pursue to the sports they play, according to shocking new survey data from international children’s charity Plan International UK.

The poll found that two thirds (68 per cent) of girls aged 11-18 in the UK think that gender stereotypes are holding women and girls back, with more than half having been told they could not do something that boys or men are allowed to do(52 per cent).

It comes as Plan International UK launches The Heavy Gown film on International Day of the Girl, which highlights the ways in which stereotypes are weighing girls down and how it’s time to shed these unwanted lessons.

Whether on television and films, or from their friends, family and others, the majority of girls surveyed in the poll say they are being taught that women and girls are:

  • Irrational or hysterical (60 per cent)
  • Better suited to housework and/or should take care of the home(72 per cent)
  • ‘Bossy’ if they are being assertive (61 per cent)
  • Not good at sports (53 per cent) or DIY/fixing things(60 per cent)

In the poll,funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and conducted by Opinium,43 per cent of girls say they have been discouraged from taking up sports like football or rugby because of their gender. A quarter (25 per cent) say they have noticed boys being taught or encouraged to study different subjects to girls.

Girls felt that being pretty or good looking was the quality most valued by society – while they themselves felt being clever or intelligent and assertive and confident were the most important qualities in girls. They cited young women like tennis player Emma Raducanu, climate activist Greta Thunberg and education campaigner Malala Yousafzai as good role models for girls.


Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK,said:

“From the day they are born, girls across the world are told who they should be, what they should look like, how they should act and what they can achieve. 

This is unacceptable. It stops girls from pursuing their dreams and reaching their full potential and denies society of their talents – whether that’s in the boardroom, in science labs, on the tennis court, or in politics.

We want to make sure girls are no longer weighed down by these stereotypes. That’s why we work tirelessly here in the UK and around the globe to smash the barriers of discrimination and prejudice that hold girls back.

This International Day of the Girl, we’re calling time on inequality. We’re celebrating the achievements of girls and challenging the toxic lessons that society imposes on girls about who they are and what they can do in life.”


Elodie, 15, a member of Plan’s Youth Advisory Panel, said:

“Often girls don’t even realise their potential because they are taught the opposite. There is subconscious discrimination that makes us think that there are very limited career paths for women. I remember telling my friends I wanted to learn to skateboard and they all laughed at me so I never did.

"At first I was put off by people telling me that women can’t be doctors and have to be nurses but recently it’s made me more determined to do well.”

To combat gender stereotypes, Plan International UK has released a new campaign film,The Heavy Gown. The film features a young woman struggling under the weight of a gown embroidered with the ‘lessons’ that restrict girls’ lives. The lessons include ‘She’s asking for it’, ‘Girls can't play football’, ‘No one likes a bossy girl’. Gradually the girl is able to be free of the heavy gown to be who she wants to be.

The survey shows how important gender equality was to UK girls, with 94 per cent of them thinking it was important that men and women were treated equally. Many also remained hopeful of a more equal future, with nearly three quarters(72 per cent)feeling confident that gender equality could be achieved in their lifetime.

To find out more about the Heavy Gown, visit


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