Girls and young women in Australia are overwhelmingly eager to lead change on the biggest social issues facing their time and look up to fierce, determined and unapologetic female leaders for inspiration.

That’s according to findings in the She Has a Plan: the unique power of girls to lead change report, which has been released for International Day of the Girl 2019 (October 11), by Plan International Australia, the leading international charity for girls’ equality. 

It found 91% of girls and young women expressed a strong desire to become leaders to tackle the biggest challenges of our time. They cited their mothers as their main source of support in their own lives and fierce female leaders as their inspirations. The survey of 1461 young women and girls aged 12 to 25 found: 

  • More than half (53%) nominated climate change as their number one concern facing society, followed by violence against women (18%), gender inequality (9%) and poverty (7%). 
  • Half (53%) said climate change and one in six (16%) said gender inequality was the biggest issue facing their own personal future. One in five agreed that girls were best placed to lead action on climate change. 
  • 91% of Australian girls and young women said they had a great desire to be a leader to make positive changes for the future, however they were less confident in their abilities to achieve that leadership.
  • Girls cited sexism as the number one thing holding girls around the world back, followed by lack of education and lack of confidence. 
  • Their biggest wish for girls around the world was for them to be equal (one in three agreed), followed by ending misogyny and harassment (one in five) and granting free education for all girls (one in six).
  • They named their mothers as the best person to build their confidence to lead, followed by their friends, teachers, fathers and then siblings.
  • When it came to inspirational women, Australian girls and women named Jacinda Ardern, Malala Yousazfai, Emma Watson and Greta Thunberg as their top role models (see full list of top 20 below).

Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena said Plan International Australia today joins millions around the world to celebrate International Day of the Girl. 

“It may be Day of the Girl today but in reality, 2019, has actually been the year of the girl,” Ms Legena said. “We’ve seen extraordinary girls and young women everywhere rising up and taking charge of their futures. For every Greta and every Malala, there are hundreds of fearless girl activists in the developing world doing extraordinary work every day to combat child marriage, child trafficking, teen pregnancy and violence.

“In this survey Australian girls have told us loud and clear that they see climate change as the most urgent threat to society and to their own futures. And we know that globally, girls in the developing world will bear the brunt of climate change. We must continue to fund and advocate for free, accessible and appropriate education for girls everywhere as a hugely important way to mitigate the impact of climate.

“Despite the uncertainty ahead, 2019 is an exciting time to be a girl. Girls everywhere are rising up and taking charge. They are wise beyond their years and they understand that action is the antidote for despair. 

“It’s not just up to girls, however. They need support from all of us to succeed. We must stand in solidarity with these incredible young people who are refusing to be consumed by despair and are sending a powerful message to our political leaders that apathy and inaction will not be tolerated.”

To celebrate International Day of the Girl, Plan International Australia is today launching its Give Equal campaign (via giveequal.org) -  a fundraising campaign to support girls in the developing world to overcome the barriers that prevent them from becoming leaders in their own right. 

“This report clearly shows that girls want to lead. Unfortunately not every girl gets that chance. That’s why it’s so important people get on board with our Give Equal campaign, which will directly fund programs that lift girls out of poverty so they can realise their potential and pursue their dreams,” Ms Legena added. 

When it came to role models in the She Has a Plan report, the top 20 most influential girls and women (ranked in order of most popular answer): 

Top 10 role-models for girls – prompted*

Top 10 role-models for girls - unprompted*

Malala Yousafzai

Jacinda Ardern

Emma Watson

Michelle Obama

Greta Thunberg

Jameela Jamill

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

Jan Fran

Serena Williams

Rosie Batty

Ash Barty

Beyoncé

Julia Gillard

P!nk

Julie Bishop

Lilly Singh

Emma Gonzalez/Yassmin Abdel Magied (equal place)

Meghan Markle

Samantha Kerr

Clementine Ford

*from a list developed by a focus group of girls and young women

* free text – ‘please add anyone not listed’

Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena said: “It is clear that Australian girls are not impressed with traditional masculine models of leadership. They look to people like Jacinda Ardern and Malala, whose strength is drawn from empathy and kindness. They admire women and girls who are fearless and powerful, but who do not covet that power for itself. Rather, it is power for change and power for others. This is female leadership.”  

Lead researcher on the She Has a Plan report, Dr Rebecca Huntley, said girl activists are changing the course of history. “We’ve seen the impact a young woman activist like Greta Thunberg can have not only on a whole generation of young men and women around the world but adults too,” Dr Huntley said. 

“It’s young women in particular who are leading the climate strikes around the world. It’s a dramatic example of one of the research findings: that girls have strong views about social change, want to be involved in making the world a better place but worry their voices aren’t going to be heard.

“The research reiterates the important role of family and friends in a girl’s life, to make her feel confident and achieving their dreams. Girls and young women know there are significant barriers facing them including sexism, discrimination and lack of opportunities to lead. Role models from sport, media and politics can inspire us but mothers and friends are the ones who will support us to get there.”

EMPOWER A GIRL! Sign up to Plan International’s Give Equal campaign today www.giveequal.org

 

Notes to editors

Plan International has a group of diverse, media-trained young women available for interviews, as well as high quality vox pop footage of them responding to the themes in the report, and talking about their role-models and why girls must be educated and empowered. Quality B-Roll, graphics and multimedia to support this report is available on request – please email jane.gardner@plan.org.au 

About Plan International Australia: Plan International Australia works around the world to tackle the root causes of poverty, inequality and injustice for children. Plan International strives to make girls truly visible: acknowledging their power and potential, and taking a stand when they are exploited, discriminated against and silenced – this includes abroad and in Australia.