Creating Lasting Change

The best people to drive change for girls here and overseas? Girls – and their allies. This year, you’ve amplified the voices of girls and young women across the globe so they’re heard by decision makers. The results have been extraordinary.

Ending Child Marriage in Malawi

In Malawi, where a loophole in the constitution meant that children could be married with their parents’ permission, a group of young Plan International Malawi campaigners mobilised to demand that their government outlaw child marriage once and for all.

These young campaigners – both girls and boys - wanted to show their government they had support beyond Malawi. Across the globe supporters like you including thousands of Australians, stood with the youth of Malawi. 42,000 people across 30 countries signed a petition to see the loophole in the constitution amended and the young Malawian campaigners were able to present this petition to decision makers and influential people including the First Lady of Malawi.

The result? The constitution was changed and child marriage has been fully outlawed in Malawi.

This fantastic result shows the power we have when we come together, and the power young people can have when they are supported to stand up for their rights.

For these young campaigners this history-making victory means they and their friends and families have the law on their side when it comes to ending child marriage. That’s huge. Thank you for making it happen.

In the year to come we’ll have more opportunities for you to help amplify the voices of young people – particularly girls who often face unique challenges – here and overseas to drive change. We already know what we can do if we stand together. Let’s make a fairer world for all children.

Youth Activist Series 

At home in Australia we’ve been working with young women to create the change they want to see here. Our Youth Activist Series is a youth advocacy program for young women in Australia who are leaders in their communities and passionate about making change in the area of gender equality.

The program provides an opportunity for young women to learn more about the state of gender equality globally, and develop skills and real world experience in advocacy and gender equality. Our Youth Activists are trained in gender equality, advocacy, media, speaking up to people in power and other forms of activism, and they use those skills to affect change in Australia. 

In 2016 the Youth Activists co-designed the highly successful mapping tool Free To Be, led a Girls Walk, participated in Girls Takeovers, launched the Everyday Sexism Report, ran the City of Melbourne Youth Services Forum, spoke on the panel at the Wheeler Centre event YAS KWEEN: Girls on Screen and were instrumental in ensuring that Plan International had our best ever media year.

In 2017, the Youth Activist Series expanded to Sydney and Canberra, where they continue to do incredible work in the area of gender equality, putting young people at the centre of our advocacy work. 

What they said

YAS quotes


Aretha Brown

Young Indigenous activist Aretha Stewart-Brown, 16, was born in Melbourne but moved to Nambucca Heads in New South Wales to be around "her mob’’ the Gumbangirr clan, before moving back to Melbourne to advance her educational opportunities at Williamstown High School.

She is now an in demand speaker and has appeared doing talks and acknowledgement of country ceremonies for the ACTU, Landcare, Minus 18, Melbourne University, Friends Of Willy Wetland, Jesuit Social Services, One Tree Foundation, Australian College of International Surgeons and at Invasion Day and NAIDOC marches in Melbourne.

She represented the country and her Indigenous relatives who served in Australia’s Armed Services, when she was one of the Victorian school students selected to attend the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings by ANZAC forces in World War 1 and did countless press interviews. She proudly organised the first ever NAIDOC event at Williamstown High School.


Most recently Aretha attended the National Youth Parliament 2017 in Canberra where she was chosen by her 60 peers as the first ever female Indigenous Prime Minister of Australia. In this role she met Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition leader Bill Shorten and the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove. Later Tim Watts, her local member of parliament congratulated Aretha in the House of Representatives on this major achievement.

She later appeared on ABC Radio Melbourne, the national ABC NEWS Breakfast program and on NITV talking about her achievements in Canberra where the National Indigenous Youth Parliament debated several major issues.

Aretha will soon appear in a new ABC TV documentary about Australia’s up and coming new female leaders.

We’re incredibly proud to have had her voice and passion as part of our Youth Activist Series.

Free To Be 

Free To Be is a digital mapping tool designed to help young people share the spaces in Melbourne that they love, or avoid, or need improvement.

The Youth Activist Leaders co-designed the tool in collaboration with Crowdspot. Free to Be was adapted from Plan International’s global Safer Cities program after our A Right To The Night report last year found one in three Australian young women don’t feel safe going out at night.

Young women were encouraged to drop a spot, share their story and shape their city.

Over 1,300 spots were dropped on the map, far exceeding our expectations. 

“We did a co-design for Free To Be. We got to design it from the beginning.

Plan International wanted to know how girls experience the city and what we can do to work with City of Melbourne, Public Transport Victoria (PTV) and other authorities to improve things. So they wanted to know how they can get the information we need from women. 

Most things in the end product of Free To Be were the things that we said. Whatever wasn’t there were things they were technically not able to do.”

- Sherry-Rose, Youth Activist Leader 

You can access the archive map here. 

Multimedia essays 

Artist Alana Holmberg developed three multimedia essays that profiled three of our young activists to accompany the launch of Free to Be. Their stories provided an in-depth look at the realities of three diverse young people who live in Melbourne. By telling their stories in their own way, the young people involved felt empowered by being able to tell their stories, and speak openly about experiences of street harassment and vulnerability. 

Free to Be Mill quote

Spreading the word 

The project had an extraordinary reach of 164.4 million people through media, with articles featured across Huffington Post Australia, Mamamia, Broadsheet, The Daily Mail, the 7:30 Report, ABC Online, Mashable,, Ten News Melbourne, 3AW, The Herald Sun, 744 ABC Drive, Channel 9 National News, The Leader Network, Triple J Hack and RMIT’s youth affairs program on Channel 31.

Girls’ Walk 

We worked closely with the City of Melbourne to present the “Girls’ Walk” through Melbourne. Our Youth Activists designed a walk of the city that would allow high-level decision-makers to walk in their shoes for an hour. They took the decision-makers from various public transport, police and city council positions, on a walk of their city and discussed the issues they face in public spaces. 

XYX Lab Design Thinking 

XYX Lab, Monash University approached Plan International to use the data collected from Free to Be to analyse and conduct in-depth case studies into the hotspots identified in the map. They also ran an incredibly exciting design thinking workshop with key influencers from Melbourne to workshop the data in Free To Be. There were over 60 people present at the workshop, including Plan Youth Activists, representatives from the City of Melbourne and other local governments, Victoria Police, Public Transport Victoria, Metro Trains, as well as gender equality organisations, engineers and architects. 


Metro Trains and Plan International are developing a working group that will position the Youth Activists at the front and centre of developing an industry standard and training program that promotes gender equity in the public transport system. They have also expressed their interest in a Girl Takeover of Metro Trains and other public transport authorities. 

Watch this space!

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