Girls and young women are leading many efforts 
to make the world a fairer, safer place.

But because of their gender, age and other characteristics, many face unique challenges to exercising their right to participate in public and political life – their right to be heard and listened to.
Scroll down to discover what change is needed to ensure all girls and young women have their voices heard, and what you can do to make a difference.

  How girls and young
women fight for change

Activism takes many shapes. Activists work to change society. For the better – socially, culturally, politically, economically or environmentally. But at its core, activism involves taking part in political and public life, whether formally or informally.

When girl and young women activists work to advance human rights, they become human rights defenders.

How girls and young women engage in activism varies richly. But there are some common elements:

They are engaged
on many issues
They are driving
change at all
levels, from local
to international
They are growing
with their activism
Their activism is
often triggered by
something that
happened to them or
people they know
They are creating
their own platforms
to be heard
They are engaged
on many issues
They are driving
change at all
levels, from local
to international
They are growing
with their activism
Their activism is
often triggered by
something that
happened to them or
people they know
They are creating
their own platforms
to be heard

The challenges faced

As well as general prejudice, girls and young women face specific barriers to taking part in making decisions.

These include:

Gender and age discrimination
Gender and age
discrimination
Exclusion from public spaces
Exclusion from
public spaces
Harassment and violence
Harassment
and violence
Hostile environments
Hostile
environments
Legal obstacles
Legal
obstacles
Lack of funding
Lack of
funding
Gender and age discrimination
Gender and age
discrimination
Exclusion from public spaces
Exclusion from
public spaces
Harassment and violence
Harassment
and violence
Hostile environments
Hostile
environments
Legal obstacles
Legal
obstacles
Lack of funding
Lack of
funding

What needs to change

What needs
to change
It is vital to not just respect the right of girls and young women to take part in public life, but also to actively promote it.
This means removing the barriers that interfere with the activism of girls and young women. It also means creating ways to guarantee they are included, in a safe and enabling environment, and have influence in making decisions.
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Older activists can be incredibly effective in helping younger ones strengthen their voices.

International and local NGOs can play a key role in providing platforms for networking, coaching and support for girl and young women activists. These platforms can also help protect the activists from intimidation and harassment.

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In the Asia-Pacific region, a women’s forum and a young women’s forum built an intergenerational women’s leadership programme, sharing knowledge and experience.

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Parents, teachers and others in positions of influence should educate and empower children to exercise their rights. This includes the right to be involved in decisions that affect them.

Some families and communities may need support in this role. Efforts to improve general economic and social equality can help with this.

Access to wealth and privilege can often determine whether someone is able to engage in activism. Because of this, girls and young women from disadvantaged groups are often not heard.

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Public spaces for girls from rural, poor or indigenous backgrounds – as well as scholarships or support from individual sponsors and mentors – have played a major role in enabling the work of many activists.

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Globally, women are less likely than men to have internet or mobile phone access. As well as lacking physical access to connected devices, many girls and young women also lack training on how to use them to their potential.

The internet and social media give many girls and young women a way to build networks and use their voices. Because of this, ensuring equal access is vital. This means providing access and training.

Accordion Content

A non-profit organisation in south-east Africa runs an academy dedicated to training girls and young women how to tell their own stories using digital technology. The organisation also facilitates an online community where girls can communicate in a positive environment.

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Schools are often the first place girls engage in decision-making, leadership and public speaking.

Crucially, girls and young women should receive inclusive, gender-responsive and culturally sensitive education. Their engagement in public life needs to
be encouraged.

School lessons should cover human rights, the harms caused by gender stereotypes, and critical thinking.

Accordion Content

A South Asian project runs accelerated learning programmes for girls and young women who never attended school or left early. The programmes’ graduates are almost six times less likely to be married young.

Accordion Content

Governments and human rights bodies can build structures that make sure children and young people – including girls and young women in all their diversity – take part in decision making.

These can include:

  • youth councils
  • grants for activism
  • programmers to build skills and leadership
  • legal requirements to consult young people on matters that affect them
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One Western European nation requires all local governments to have a youth council, which must be at least 40% girls or young women.

Girls and young women are already playing powerful roles in transforming societies for the better. They are helping craft a fairer, more democratic world.
But many face multiple obstacles to having a voice in decisions about their own lives and about the worlds in which they live.
International human rights law guarantees. the rights of girls and young women to take part in political and public life, freedom of expression and opinion, and the freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
To ensure this happens for all, we must:
Tear down the barriers – cultural, legal, administrative, financial, structural – that limit girls’ and young women’s voice and agency.
Build structures and systems that empower all girls and young women to be active participants in their own lives and in public affairs.
You can be part of the solution.

  Here’s how you can make a difference.  

All actions – big or small – create change. Here are four things you can do today to be part of the change.

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The UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls would like to thank all the young women and girls who contributed to this report and who helped us improve our working methods so that we might better engage with you. We will continue to build on what we have learned from you and work to create structural change across the UN system to ensure the meaningful engagement of young women and girls in UN human rights mechanisms. Thank you.

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United Nations Working Group on
discrimination against women and girls

Girls’ and young women’s activism

Making sure girls
and young women
are always heard