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Why is gender equality important?

22nd May 2024 - 10 minute read

The world faces big challenges. But promoting gender equality is not a diversion. It’s essential.

Laura Oakley
is Editorial & Content Manager at Plan International UK
Useaking looking at camera with white decorative paint on cheeks and forehead
Useaking, 21, Bangladesh.


The world faces big challenges. Poverty, conflict and the climate crisis are just a few. But promoting gender equality is not a diversion away from these challenges. It’s a powerful way to tackle them and deliver change for girls.  

Because while gender inequality harms us all, girls often bear the brunt of it – especially girls living in poverty, conflict or crisis.  

And at the current rate of progress, this will continue for far too long. Estimates say it will take another 131 years to achieve gender equality.* Girls can’t wait this long. None of us can. 

See for yourself. Useaking, Najah and Keira’s experiences show how gender inequality has shaped their lives and choices – but it doesn’t need to be this way.  

For when we focus on making the world a better place to be a girl, we create safer and more just communities for everyone.  

Breaking free from Poverty: Useaking's story

Useaking using mirror to apply thanaka paste to her face.
Useaking using mirror to apply thanaka paste to her face.


I was too young to understand anything back then. When I ran away and got married, I was 17 and he was 22,” explains Useaking.  

Useaking, 21, from Bangladesh is one of the 12 million girls around the world who marry before their 18th birthday every single year. This is child marriage. 

Poverty is one of the main driving factors in child marriage. But it’s a human rights violation. It disproportionately affects girls and can subject them to further harm and abuse. Married girls are also four times more likely not to finish school – limiting their potential.  


Around 1 in 5 girls under 15 are growing up in extreme poverty.  
Source: UN Women [i]


My life wouldn’t be like this if I had studied,” says Useaking who now has two young children of her own.  

I have always dreamt of studying and pursuing a career. But in my community, girls are not allowed to continue their education after marriage

If I had known the consequences, I might have made different choices.” 

Part of the reason Useaking dropped out of school was because she’d fallen so far behind. Period poverty, shame and taboo forced her to miss school: 

I used to have to stay home for days when I had my period. I didn’t even know to use rags, let alone sanitary pads, so I couldn’t go out as people would see my bloodstained clothes.” 


Useaking using sewing machine.
Useaking enjoys sewing and wants to open a shop.


Around the world, 500 million girls and women don’t have the essentials they need to manage their period. In the UK, almost a quarter of those who menstruate struggle to afford period products. [ii] 

With gender equality and better access to products and information, periods wouldn't stop girls from going to school – or partaking in any activity. And girls like Useaking wouldn’t feel forced to entertain the option of becoming a child bride. 

Living through crisis: Najah’s story


Najah carrying 2 big flasks of water across land.
Najah, 11, Somalia.


I want a better life than this,” says 11-year-old Najah in Somalia. 

Najah is one of millions of people currently facing a hunger and nutrition crisis. Hunger ‘hotspots’ have spread across the world. Conflict, the climate crisis and economic turbulence have all made it harder to find and afford food.  

Somalia is one of these hunger hotspots owing to a devastating drought alongside three decades of conflict. And girls like Najah are feeling its effects deeply.  

Women and girls account for 70% of people experiencing hunger worldwide. 
Source: UN [iii]  


When I walk or do chores, I get tired and need to sit down,” says Najah. 

The hunger crisis poses a unique threat to girls – to their bodies, their education, their safety and, ultimately, their lives.  

That’s because when food is scarce, girls often eat less and last. And when families can't make ends meet, girls are often pulled out of school. Instead, they’ll look after siblings or fetch water while parents search for food. 

If things get worse, girls may be forced to take extreme measures to survive – from child marriage to sexual exploitation. Both put girls at risk of serious harm. Both have lasting consequences. 

Najah cooking using pot on fire outside.
Najah cooks a scarce meal.


For Najah, the injustice of missing out on her right to education is particularly hard to stomach: 

I didn’t get a chance to learn anything. I would love to get an education. I want to learn how to read and write. My dream is to become a doctor so that I can help myself, my family and community." 

Owing to the heightened discrimination girls like Najah face in crises like these, tackling them is crucial. Currently the global hunger funding gap is 65% unfulfilled.[iv] And broken climate promises risk further climate shocks. 

Right to knowledge: Keira’s story 

Kiera standing outside building, looking at camera and holding stomach.
Kiera, 18, Zambia.


The Covid-19 pandemic brought lockdowns, school closures and the loss of income to many communities. Girls without safety nets were pushed to make difficult choices.  

One of them was 18-year-old Keira who lives in Zambia: 

My mother was selling second hand clothes at the market five days a week, but because of the lockdown and restrictions she could only go two times a week.  

We got less income and I had to stop going to school. I was so sad. It was my happy place. I wanted to stay in school but we didn’t have enough money

I started to date guys and thought I could fix the problem.” 

But Keira became unintendedly pregnant. Adolescent pregnancy rates escalated so much in Zambia that when the schools finally reopened, more boys than girls returned.  

Melissa standing amongst trees/plants holding her baby son.
Melissa, 18, is another young mum like Keira who had an unintended pregnancy in Zambia during Covid-19.


I didn’t know anything about contraceptives and was just told that they were for married people and if I used them, I would not have children in the future," says Keira. 

Girls like Keria have a right to make choices about their bodies. But they often have limited access to what they need, when they need it – or learn from wrong or inaccurate sources. This puts girls’ health, lives and futures at risk. 


50% of adolescent pregnancies in low-middle income countries each year are unintended.
Source: WHO [v]


Complications in pregnancy remain a leading cause of death and disability for adolescent girls in low-income countries. What’s more, girls who become pregnant and don’t finish school are also more likely to struggle financially.  

I want to be an educated woman,” says Keira. “I believe that with education you can have a good life and not suffer. My dream is to become a doctor, nurse or midwife. I would love to deliver my friends’ babies.” 

Let’s Beat the Clock 

There has been progress for girls like Useaking, Najah and Keira. Today more girls are going to school than ever before. Fewer girls are being forced to marry when they are still children. And fewer girls are experiencing harmful practices. 

But progress is patchy and far too slow. At the current rate, billions more girls across five generations are still set to endure inequality – by default, by law and by design.  

We say no more. It’s time to Beat the Clock

Useaking playing with her daughter at their home.
Useaking with her young daughter.

Together with girls, we are showing that change is possible. Useaking now mentors adolescent girls and boys about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. And Keira is keen to do the same.  

I want my daughter to reach her full potential and enjoy her freedom, to have access to education and the opportunity to pursue her dreams,” says Useaking.  

We see girls creating change in their own lives and beyond. The decisions they make and the roles they take up can help to build more equal societies.  

And you can join them. We need people like you to continue to stand up for girls’ rights and ensure those in power speed up change. 

Find the latest action you can take

We can achieve gender equality for this generation. For all girls. For everyone.  Together, we can Beat the Clock. 



* World Economic Forum

i. UN Women

ii. The World Bank

iii. Women's UN Report Network

iv. Action Against Hunger

v. World Health Organisation

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