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Five reasons we’re talking about UK girls’ rights in 2020

19th January 2020 - 3 min read

Across the UK, girls are still facing threats to their safety, sexism in school and a lack of control over their bodies.

Jenny Lincoln
is the UK Girls' Rights Research and Policy Manager at Plan International UK

Whether you’re a girl living in London or Liverpool, the chances are at some point in your life, you’ve faced some sort of discrimination based purely on your gender – from being discouraged to play certain sports or choose a particular subject at school, to being cat-called or sexually harassed on the street.

As we enter 2020, our latest State of Girls’ Rights in the UK report, which builds on our groundbreaking report released in 2016, finds that girls feel frustrated and fed-up with the empty messages of female empowerment, while policies at both national and local level are not going far enough to tackle gender inequality.



"Growing up as a black woman, it is quite hard to actually see someone who represents you in a higher position."

- Tanya, 21, Birmingham


Our survey found that 6 in 10 girls aged 14 to 21 think males are treated better than females in the UK. These girls noticed this difference in the media (72%), at school (41%) and even at home (22%). 

As in other parts of the world, our research shows that being a girl or young woman in the UK comes with specific challenges – and much more needs to be done to tackle gender inequality in the UK.  

That’s why we’re sharing five reasons why we should all be talking about and championing girls’ rights in the UK in 2020.

1.Girls’ voices need to be heard

In 2016 girls told us they were facing harassment at school, didn’t feel safe online, were being judged by the way their body looked and were scared every day on the street. Four years on, little has changed and these are still very real concerns for girls.

To create change, we need to make sure girls' experiences are listened to and their voices are heard.

2. Girls should feel safe on the streets and online

In the UK today, girls don’t feel safe in public and don’t feel their local areas are designed for them. They’re dealing with relentless street harassment and changing their behaviour to avoid being targeted.

That’s why we launched our first UK programmes in 2018, to change perceptions and attitudes towards girls and create a safe space for girls online. But this is just the start and we know much more needs to be done before girls feel safe.

3. Girls need to be at the heart of government policy

Girls across the UK don’t feel heard in public life and don’t feel represented by parliaments.

With your support, we’ve succeeded in getting the UK Government to recognise street harassment as a form of gender-based violence. Meanwhile, our Menstrual Manifesto has put pressure on the government to tackle period poverty and break the stigma surrounding periods, and we co-chair the new period taskforce.

Now we plan to keep the pressure on until girls’ needs are truly at the heart of policy.



"If you were a girl and you picked engineering then the boys took the mick, because they think, ‘oh that’s a boy’s thing’. Sometimes the boys’ teachers didn’t even let girls on it. In our high school I don’t think one girl went on that course, because it was for boys."

- Nicola, 20, Blackpool


4. We need to smash gender stereotypes

Girls are outperforming boys in educational achievement, but sexism and harassment in school are rife. Subject choices are still gendered, and gender stereotypes are impacting girls’ future career opportunities. 

That’s why we need to ensure girls are no longer held back in education or the workplace by dangerous stereotypes. We need to remodel girls’ experience of education to ensure no girl is left behind.

5. We need to champion girls’ rights right across the UK

Our research shows that girls across the whole of the UK are experiencing challenges as a result of their gender and age. We must champion girls’ rights in every place, while recognising that girls in some areas have different needs.

DISCOVER our work on girls rights

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