As we approach the end of a decade and the beginning of another, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the progress we’ve seen for girls and young women over the last 10 years.
We’ve watched as inspiring female role models have broken glass ceilings.
No longer willing to be silenced, we witnessed women and girls around the globe unite to call out sexual harassment.
We stood with girl activists as they raised their voices for the good of the planet, and we saw the unique needs and rights of women and girls recognised by governments and authorities.
Here are some of our highlights!
The decade began with a huge step forward for female representation in Australian politics, when Julia Gillard defeated Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill, becoming Australia’s first female Prime Minister.
During her time in office, she not only became a role model for girls, proving that there is no limit to their political aspirations, she also made children’s rights a priority, calling for a Royal Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Her most memorable moment however, came in 2012 when she denounced sexism in politics during her now famous ‘misogyny speech’. It was the first time an Australian leader had been so direct in calling out such behaviour, and was hailed as a turning point for women in Australia, then and in the future.
In 2011, we began to see the effects of female leadership take shape, when the Gillard government appointed diplomat Penny Williams as Australia’s first ever Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.
The government had long been urged by human rights advocates and women’s organisations to create the role, and its main purpose was – and continues to be – to ensure that the needs and rights of women and girls are central to Australia’s foreign policy and overseas development program.
The Ambassador’s key priorities include ‘co-ordinating and promoting Australia’s work to eradicate violence against women, improving access to services for women, the protection of women and girls in conflict zones and increasing the representation of women in leadership roles’.
The legacy of the role’s introduction lives on in 2019 – Dr. Sharman Stone is the current Ambassador for Women and Girl.
Following a Plan International campaign to see girls on the global agenda, in 2012 the United Nations introduced October 11th as International Day of the Girl.
Each year on this day, the world is called to recognise the unique challenges that girls face globally, as well as their enormous potential to bring about change.
Plan International has been celebrating International Day of the Girl since it’s introduction with #GirlsTakeovers, placing girls in positions of power for a day, marking it as a time to celebrate and empower girls around the globe.
Having survived a near fatal gunshot wound in a brutal Taliban attack after speaking publicly about girls’ right to an education, Malala Yousafzai had a choice to make.
“I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given.” She said. Undeterred, her choice was an act of courage: “I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.”
In 2013, the then 15-year-old founded Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to giving every girl the opportunity to choose her own future through education. Working in regions where girls regularly miss out on a secondary education, Malala Fund invests in local educators, advocates for resources and policy change, holds leaders accountable and amplifies the voices of girls.
In 2014, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, and her story and advocacy efforts have been instrumental in progress around universal education. In 2013, Malala helped launch a petition that saw the UN recommit to the Millennium Development Goal around education for children worldwide, and led to Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.
In November of this year, the UN introduced a landmark resolution calling for a global ban on child marriage, which included recommendations around the steps that must be taken by governments and international organisations to address the issues of child, early and forced marriage.
Girls Not Brides – a global partnership of more than 1300 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage – played a major role in the campaign which led to this resolution, and its introduction has been vital in our own progress in the space.
In 2017 Plan International supported youth activists campaigning to end child marriage in Malawi, and together, our efforts were a success and the practice was outlawed.
In 2015 we saw 193 UN member states adopt the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which includes a specific goal around achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.
Building on the millennium development goals with an aim of completing what these were unable to achieve, the Agenda is ‘a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’.
Among the 17 goals it sets out, its main objectives are to foster peace, end poverty and hunger, protect the planet, take urgent action on climate change, and ensure the rights of all humans are realized by 2030. Including women and girls in the agenda sets a global precedent for gender equality and holds countries to account on this, and will hopefully improve things for women and girls, now and in the future.
In 2016, following a safer cities campaign and petition led by Plan International and partners, world leaders committed to making girls’ needs a priority in the sustainable development of cities.
With the signatures of thousands of people from more than 90 countries, the petition was presented to and adopted by United Nations state members at the UN’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.
The New Urban Agenda aims to improve girls’ safety, access to public spaces, and their ability to move freely in cities. It also states that girls should be actively involved in urban governance, including decision-making processes that impact their safety.
The adoption of the agenda was a breakthrough in Plan International’s safer cities campaign and saw girls recognised, for the first time, as a unique group that need protection.
Though first coined by Tarana Burke – an activist who started a movement for survivors of sexual assault – in 2006, the term ‘Me Too’ hit headlines and hashtags in a major way in 2017.
In the wake of an exposé detailing countless allegations of sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, girls and women across the globe began a social media movement using the #MeToo hashtag, to speak out about their own experiences of sexual harassment.
What began as a way for victims of Weinstein to speak out transcended into a global conversation regarding men’s behaviour towards women and the abuse of power. This show of solidarity encouraged millions of women and girls to call out their harassers, sending a powerful message that they will no longer be silenced.
When Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister of New Zealand at age 37, she was the world’s youngest female head of government, inspiring a new generation of girls. But in the year since, her youth has quickly become the least interesting thing about her, having instead gained world-wide popularity for her integrity and compassion. She became a mother for the first time while in office and brought her baby with her to the UN general assembly meeting, proving that women can have a successful career and a family. In the aftermath of the horrific attack on a Christchurch mosque, she communicated with grace and empathy, and then, in tightening gun laws, took tangible action to prevent such an event in the future.
In redefining leadership, she has cemented herself as a role model for girls around the globe, and this year, was cited by girls and women as one of the most inspiring figures in the world, in our She Has A Plan report.
Having fearlessly led the conversation around the climate crisis and inspired girls and young people everywhere to raise their voices, Greta has come a long way since her very first solo ‘school climate strike’ in 2018.
In the words of TIME magazine, she “has addressed heads of state at the U.N, met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.”
At just 16-years-old Greta has shown greater conviction and commitment to the fight against climate change than world leaders more than twice her age, and we can’t think of anyone more deserving of TIME’s greatest honour.
In the next decade, Greta’s generation will come of age, and with young people more passionate about activism and building a better, more sustainable world than ever before, the future of leadership and the next ten years looks very bright indeed.
Hillary Clinton runs for US president
As the first woman to be elected as the presidential candidate for a major US political party Hillary Clinton inspired a whole generation of girls in 2016. In the face of misogyny, she campaigned with grace, and has long been an advocate for women’s reproductive rights and girls’ education.
Launch of AFL Women’s competition
2017 saw the much awaited launch of AFL Women’s, the first elite national competition for female players. This history making introduction gave women and girls an opportunity to utilise their athletic prowess and pursue a career in a sport they had long been restricted from.
Matildas pay matched to Socceroos
In a world-first, Football Federation Australia announced a landmark deal in November this year, which will see Australia’s women’s soccer team, the Matildas receive the same benefits as their male counterparts.
Not only will the Matildas earn the same as the Socceroos, they will also take an equal split of commercial revenues, bridging the gender pay gap that has always existed in professional sport.